The Necessity of Being Distinctively Reformed

The editors of Salt Shakers asked me to write on the necessity of being Reformed. To treat this subject, it is necessary to define the terms.

Reformed

The first term is Reformed, which describes the confession of the truth of scripture as it is summarised in the three forms of unity—the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt—which were officially adopted by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618–19. Included as minor creeds in the Reformed confessions are the doctrinal forms for baptism, confession of faith, Lord’s Supper, excommunication, marriage, and the installation of officebearers.

These documents are called Reformed standards, creeds, symbols, and confessions. They are called Reformed standards because they are the rule of what is and what is not Reformed and the judge of all doctrinal controversies in Reformed churches. An appeal to the creeds is the end of controversy for the Reformed church and believer. They are called Reformed creeds—from the Latin credo (I believe) because they are the statement of what every Reformed believer and church believes to be the truth of the word of God. They are called Reformed symbols—from the Latin symbolum (badge) because like a distinguishing insignia they separate the Reformed believer and church from all others and state what it means to be Reformed. They are called Reformed confessions, from the Latin confessio (to speak together with) because by means of the creeds believers speak together as members of Reformed churches with Christ and all likeminded Reformed believers. According to scripture, what one believes must be spoken with the mouth:

But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed (Rom. 10:8–11).

These confessions are the standards of unity for Reformed churches, and they state what is necessary for the Reformed believer to believe and a Reformed church to teach in order to be considered Reformed.

In the light of certain controversies, it is necessary to state that there is no room in the Reformed standards—they specifically deny it—for any doctrine of a general favour of God to the elect and reprobate. This has and remains the issue in the controversy over common grace and a conditional covenant. The issue is not whether certain people or churches can find some texts in the Bible that they suppose teach common grace and a conditional covenant. The issue is whether the Reformed creeds teach these things? Are they Reformed according to the creeds? No proof is forthcoming. On the basis of supposed scriptural texts no one has argued that these doctrines should be included in the Reformed creeds.

The Reformed creeds do not teach a general offer of grace and salvation in the preaching of the gospel. They do not teach a general operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the reprobate, which restrains sin in them and allows them to do good works in God’s eyes. The creeds do not teach a general favour of God expressed toward   the   unregenerate   in   giving them rain and sunshine and other gifts of creation. The creeds do not teach a general favour of God in the covenant, by which God gives grace to every baptised child and promises to be the God of every baptised child. Today these false doctrines are all assumed to be Reformed, and those who deny them are set outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy or ridiculed for their rejection of them.

The Reformed creeds teach that the grace of God is for the elect only by teaching that the grace of God flows out of election: “Election is the fountain of every saving good, from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects” (Canons 1.9).1

The creeds teach the grace of God for the elect only by teaching that the cross of Christ, which is the ground of every blessing, is for the elect alone: “It was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross…should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation” (Canons 2.8). The Reformed creeds, as the standard of what is or is not Reformed, reject the doctrines of general grace as inventions and intrusions into the Reformed confessions and condemn them as false doctrines.

Being Reformed is also to be covenantal in one’s doctrine and life. The doctrine of the covenant is more distinctly Reformed than the doctrine of election. The covenant, specifically as the bond of friendship and fellowship between the triune God and His elect people in Christ their Head, is the peculiar heritage of Reformed churches. This doctrine is most simply and beautifully expressed in the Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism: “God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us [by baptism] that he doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs”.

There is also a very important practical element of Reformed orthodoxy— especially Reformed covenantal orthodoxy—in   the   development   of the truth of marriage as a lifelong, unbreakable bond. The Reformed church is always reforming, and this is true with regard to the doctrine of marriage. Marriage was always highly esteemed among the Reformed, even to the point of making its confirmation a part of the worship service. The Reformed, according to scripture, also connected marriage with the truth of God’s covenant. For instance, the Form for the Confirmation of Marriage exhorts the husband to love his wife as his own body, “as Christ hath loved his church”. The form exhorts the wife to be obedient to her husband, “as the body is obedient to the head, and the church to Christ”. And the form calls the marriage bond “a holy state”. All these statements allude to the great marriage passage in Ephesians 5:32, where Paul speaks of the “great mystery” of the marriage between Christ and His church. In the Form for the Confirmation of Marriage the Reformed fathers made statements that hint at this later development of the marriage doctrine: “Hear now from the gospel how firm the bond of marriage is, as described in Matthew 19:3–9”. In that passage Jesus said, “I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”.

In practice the Reformed did not carry through the principle that the marriage bond cannot be broken except by death. Later, in connection with the development of the truth of the covenant as   unconditional   and   unbreakable, the truth regarding marriage was also developed, specifically basing this truth on the reality that God’s grace toward His people never fails and His covenant is unbreakable. In that light it was seen that the covenant of marriage cannot be broken in this life. A Reformed church today must preach this, and Reformed believers today must believe this and practice it as a development and application of the Reformed truth of God’s grace and covenant.

The Reformed standards are authoritative for the Reformed believer and the Reformed church, because in all points of doctrine they do fully agree with the word of God. Every Reformed officebearer swears in the Formula of Subscription: “We heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed   Churches,   together   with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618–19, do fully agree with the Word of God”.

Because they fully agree with the word of God, the Reformed faith of the forms of unity is not the creed of one nation, tribe, or tongue, but is universal. It is universal because it is the teaching of the word of God, which is universal and holds for all men in all time and places. The authority of the Reformed faith is not derived of itself, by virtue of its antiquity, or because of the theological brilliance of those who wrote the creeds, but its authority is derived from and is dependent on the word of God. The Reformed faith as it is expressed in the three forms can also only be judged by the word of God. To preach it is to preach the word of God. To believe it is to believe the word of God. To confess it is to confess the word of God. To defend it is to defend the word of God.

Reformed is also a church political term. Church polity is as distinctly a Reformed matter as is confession and doctrine. Church polity refers to the organisation and government of the church institute—the local church—in the world. By her unique polity Reformed churches distinguish themselves from all others. The Reformed also highly value this polity as essential for church life. Wrong church polity is the frequent cause, or at least major contributing factor, in doctrinal departure, chaotic church life, and paralysis in the church’s work.

The Reformed themselves stated the source of proper church government: “We believe that this true church must be governed by that spiritual policy which our Lord hath taught us in His Word” (Belgic Confession 30). The policy that must govern the church is not manmade, of man’s wisdom, or a matter of convenience, but it is the Lord’s and is taught in His word. It is His law and wisdom concerning the organisation of the church as His kingdom in the world. The church ignores it or sets it aside to her ruin. Jesus Christ is the sole king of the church, and His policy is the only policy that may rule in the church. The Reformed summarised this policy as to its main principles and certain practical applications in the Church Order of Dordrecht, which it adopted at the Dordt synod in 1618–19.

The importance of this polity is also expressed by the Belgic Confession in article 30: “By these means [right church government] the true religion may be preserved and the true doctrine everywhere propagated, likewise transgressors punished and restrained by   spiritual   means;   also   that   the poor and distressed may be relieved and comforted”. All the grand and glorious work of the church—also the maintenance and spread of right doctrine—depends on right polity.

Without it the church descends into chaos, ceases to function, and eventually dies.

Being

The second term that is necessary to define is being. Being Reformed is the issue, that is, whether an individual or a church is Reformed. To be Reformed is not merely a claim or a name, either on the church building or in the name registered with the government. If it is only a name, to be Reformed is nothing but hypocrisy. A church and believer must be what they claim to be.

To be Reformed is not being a certain ethnicity, coming from some nation, or having some racial or national pedigree. Reformed is not a parochial or provincial term. Reformed is as universal as the word of God is universal and as applicable to one tribe, nation, and time as it is to another tribe, nation, and tribe. Being Reformed is not having some Reformed doctrines among one’s creeds, if there are other doctrines in those creeds that contradict and overthrow them. Reformed is not synonymous with Calvinism, and there is no such thing as a Reformed Baptist.

To be Reformed is not finding support for one’s doctrinal or practical positions among   certain   theologians   who identify themselves as Reformed. To be Reformed is not being able to speak learnedly of the Reformed tradition, for as highly as it values tradition and as suspicious as it is of anything novel, it values scripture above all else and demands that all things in the church— in doctrine, life, and worship—wholly conform to the word of God. To that end the Reformed faith demands that all conform to the creeds and church order as the faithful summary of the word of God concerning faith, life, and church government.

To be Reformed is not merely to have the Reformed creeds as one’s official creeds so that if some churches have the Reformed creeds as their creeds they may uncritically be assumed to be Reformed. If churches have the Reformed creeds as their creeds and by that make the claim that they are Reformed, then that claim may and must be tested as to whether they actually hold to those creeds faithfully. To be Reformed, then, is to be faithful to the creeds and church order in all things. It is very popular in these ecumenical days—false Reformed ecumenicity—to excuse error in the name of unity by substituting another standard for faithfulness that sounds similar but is fundamentally different. That other standard is faithfulness to one’s own tradition, faithfulness to one’s own interpretation of the creeds, or faithfulness as far as one’s church confesses the creeds. It consists at best in a reduction of the creeds to those doctrines in the creeds that the greatest number of people can agree on, and a willingness to set aside other doctrines in the creeds as less important or non- essential. This erroneous idea of being Reformed leads those who espouse it to speak of lesser Reformed churches and to excuse fellowship with them on the basis that they at least they have the Reformed creeds as their official confession, or are faithful to their church’s confession and interpretation of the creeds as far as it goes.

Rather,   being   Reformed   according to the creeds means that there are churches in the world that are truly Reformed according to this standard who faithfully teach and stoutly defend all of their doctrines. It also means that there are churches that apostatize from this standard by approving of doctrines and practices that conflict with the Reformed standards. These are not less faithful, or lesser Reformed churches, but apostatizing and unfaithful Reformed churches, which therefore are not truly Reformed but have departed and are departing from the Reformed faith. The standard, the only standard, is faithfulness to the creeds in their entirety and rejection of all that is contrary to the creeds.

To be Reformed then means heartily to believe and to be persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine in the creeds fully agree with the word of God. To be Reformed means that one confesses this truth and adorns it with the godly life that it demands and is disposed to defend that truth. To be Reformed means to reject all that is contrary to the creeds and militates against them. For a church to be Reformed means that this doctrine is openly taught, readily received, and faithfully defended in the pulpit.

To be Reformed is also to be organised as a church according to the polity of the Church Order of Dordt. For an individual to be Reformed also means being a member of such a church in the world. The Reformed faith truly becomes a confession—to say with others—only   when   one   confesses it as a member in a true church of Christ where these things are faithfully believed and preached.

Necessity

The final term to define is necessity. What is the necessity of being Reformed, Reformed as has been defined here? Is there a necessity to be Reformed, or may an individual pick and choose his confession as a consumer picks his favourite food from the menu? Necessity implies an imperative, a demand, or command. For the believer his necessity can only be the word of God. It is necessary in this sense to be Reformed.

The Reformed faith does not come— and no Reformed church may preach it so—as an option, as a system or philosophy that men may take or leave, or alter, add to, or diminish at their pleasure. It comes as the gospel and the very word of God. The Reformed faith fully agrees with the word of God. The Reformed faith comes with the same call as the word of God: believe and thou shalt be saved; and it warns sharply that those who reject it do so at their peril. Departing from the Reformed faith one imperils his own soul and the souls of his generations. A Reformed church that departs from it imperils the souls of all its members and their generations. Believing it one believes the word of God, believes the gospel, and has the promise of salvation and life.

Because the Reformed faith fully agrees with the word of God, knowing and believing these things one knows God in Jesus Christ and that knowledge is eternal life (Jn. 17:3). Being ignorant of these truths one is ignorant of eternal life.

For the Reformed church and believer to be Reformed in confession and polity is necessary as a matter of obedience to her sole king, Jesus Christ. The necessity is a matter of faithfulness to her Lord and to the gospel. Rejecting it one hardens himself against Christ.

The necessity is thus also that being Reformed the gospel governs the whole life of the church and the believer. It is liberty for the church and believer to be ruled by the word of God and not by the word, doctrine, and commandments of men. Therein also she is useful in the maintenance and spread of the gospel, for in maintaining and spreading the Reformed faith, she maintains and spreads the gospel.

Most of all, God revealed these things for His glory; therein is the ultimate reason to be Reformed. It glorifies God in the confession of the truth of God as God himself intended in its revelation. Departing from it one must necessarily say something false about God to the denigration of His name, which for the believer is the most horrible thing imaginable and that at which he shutters. The confession of the Reformed faith, the life of holiness that the Reformed confession demands is the believer’s and the Reformed church’s soli Deo gloria.

About the necessity that compelled him and his fellow believers to be Reformed, the author of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Brès, wrote to their chief persecutor, Philip II, king of Spain:

The banishments, prisons, racks, exiles, tortures and countless other persecutions plainly demonstrate that our desire and conviction are not carnal, for we would lead a far easier life if we did not embrace and maintain this doctrine. But having the fear of God before our eyes, and being in dread of the warning of Jesus Christ, who tells us that He shall forsake us before God and His Father if we deny Him before men, we suffer our backs to be beaten, our tongues to be cut, our mouths to be gagged and our whole body to be burnt, for we know that he who would follow Christ must take up his cross and deny himself.2

In the suffering and loss that inevitably followed upon their confession, they comforted themselves—and us—with this comfort that belongs in the final judgment to those who faithfully confess Christ’s name in the world: “The faithful and elect shall be crowned with glory and honour; and the Son of God will confess their names before God his Father and his elect angels; all tears shall be wiped form their eyes; and their cause, which is now condemned by many judges and magistrates as heretical and impious, will then be known to be the cause of the Son of God” (Belgic Confession 37).

Let us be boldly, faithfully, and unashamedly Reformed in doctrine, life, and polity.

 

1 Quotations from the creeds and forms are taken from The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005).assigns to each covenant mother what children of God’s covenant they must bring forth, and to them He gives this great privilege. Christ determines His “children.”

2 Dedicatory Epistle to Reformed Confession of Faith, Addressed to Philip II, 1561, Trans. Marvin Kamps, Dutch and French versions in De Nederlandse Belij- denisgeschriften, ed. J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink (2nd ed. Amsterdam, 1976 pp. 62-69.

 

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 44

Advertisements

Desiring a Good Work (IV)

1 Timothy 3:1 – This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

Having previously examined the nature of the office of elder and what Paul describes as the “good work” of his office, in the last issue we began to consider the blessings that an elder receives. In this final instalment, we will look further at the blessings that God gives a faithful elder. We will conclude with a consideration of ways in which men can prepare, indeed, ought to prepare themselves for the office.

We have noted that God’s blessing on elders arises out of the faithful labours that they perform in their office. Faithful elders are constantly busy in God’s Word – studying, searching, and teaching that Word. The blessing that results is growing in their knowledge and understanding of the Bible. In addition, since they are continually applying that Word to situations in the church, the elders grow in wisdom in applying the Word to their own lives and families.

A second notable personal blessing is a growth in sanctification. This blessing also arises first out of the elder’s work with the Bible. In His beautiful high priestly prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus made this request for His disciples: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (vs. 17). The elder who is busy studying the Bible for his work also recognises the need for the Word for his own personal benefit. God will bless that study. The Word more and more governs his thinking and his life. The Spirit gives the desire to walk in holiness. Add that to the elder’s experience of how sin ravages the lives of God’s people, and the deception of sin, and the result is that the elder more and more hates that sin and knows he must stay as far as he can from sin himself. He knows his own wicked nature, and he knows that Satan would like nothing better than to cause an officebearer to fall into gross sin. By God’s grace, all these things lead an elder to fight sin in himself and to strive for holiness. Faithful work in the office will produce growth in sanctification.

Third, the faithful officebearer grows in his love for the church, for the people of God. This is not an automatic blessing. On the one hand, God’s people are sinners. They are not always so loveable. They can be harsh, critical, attacking, slandering people. And they demonstrate that not only to other members, but not infrequently, toward the elders. Certainly what Solomon observed in his life is true of the officebearer – with knowledge comes sorrow (Ecc. 1:18). An officebearer weeps over the sins of fellow believers. And he feels the sting and bears the scars of attacks from fellow members of the congregation. Not once, but twice, Proverbs grieves: “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly” (Pro. 18:8, 26:22). These are wounds that do not heal easily. Many an officebearer has finished his term of office heartsick because of the sins of God’s people, astounded at the vicious natures that manifest themselves in the church.

And yet, the officebearer loves God’s people. And the more he helps them, the more he loves them. He sees their struggles   and   can   empathize   with them. He sees them taking hold of the word of instruction and admonition. He sees them striving to be obedient – fighting sin and living in sanctification. And seeing the work of God in them, he loves them. The bond of love forms, develops, and lasts. All believers are called to love one another, to care for the weak, and to seek the good of the church. The officebearer has many opportunities to carry out these admonitions. And his love for the church grows and is manifested.

These are some of the outstanding blessings that Christ bestows on faithful officebearers.

Preparation

The main point of the articles has been that the office of elder is a good work, a work that men ought to desire. If a man properly desires to serve his Lord and Saviour in any of the three church offices, it is obvious that he ought to prepare himself as much as he can. The man who believes he is called to the office of minister of the Word and sacraments pursues many years of preparation. One who desires to serve Christ as an elder (or deacon) should likewise seek to be prepared for the office.

That leads to the question, how can a man prepare for the work?

Let us not miss the obvious preparation that is needed, as the passage in 1 Timothy 3 directs us. The inspired apostle Paul wrote of desiring of the office of bishop (elder), and then immediately   followed   that   with the qualifications for the elder. The point is clear. A man who desires this office must cultivate these spiritual qualifications. Without them, he may not be nominated for the office. These qualifications ought to be obvious in his life and conduct. Paul wrote:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil (vs. 2-7).

A necessary place to begin then, is with a prayerful study of these qualifications.

Second, one prepares for service in the church of Christ by growing in the knowledge of the Word of Christ. The Bible is the heart of each office. The Word of Christ is the power of the office. This is the source of the instruction, the admonitions, the good counsel, and the wisdom needed in the work. The man who will serve ought to be daily reading and meditating on the Word of God.

Closely related, a man who desires to serve should be familiar with the Reformed confessions. All officebearers sign the Formula of Subscription when they are first ordained/installed. In so doing, they express that they “heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches together with the [Canons], do fully agree with the Word of God”. Then they will promise “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine….” It should be obvious that to make such promises meaningfully they must know these Reformed confessions. Anyone   who   will   serve   effectively as an officebearer in a Reformed congregation must know and love the Reformed faith, and that is the content of the confessions. Preparation includes then gaining a thorough knowledge of the confessions.

In addition, the officebearers must know the Reformed Church Order. The Church Order gives the rules for the proper Reformed government of the church as drawn from Scripture itself. It sets forth the time-tested church polity which has as its basic principle that Christ Jesus is the King of His church. King Jesus demands that all things be done decently and in order. Good, effective Reformed officebearers will not only know what the Church Order says, but understand the principles behind the articles, and be able to apply them to the government of the church. A man can prepare himself to serve by reading good commentaries on the Church Order. The importance of such preparation cannot be overstated.

Further preparation can be gained by reading. An officebearer should know the truth. He should know the errors that the church battled in the past. Knowledge of the history of the church generally, and of his own church in particular, are important. We learn from the struggles and the mistakes of the church in the past. Good books are available on the office of elder and its duties.

And then one more thing. A man who desires the office of elder desires to serve the church of Jesus Christ. Such a man should be seeking ways to serve the church before he is nominated for any office. He is involved in the life of the church. He serves the other members in small, unnoticed ways simply because he loves God’s people.

These preparations, it should be evident, are efforts from which all believers can profit. They will give rich spiritual benefits to any Christian. And the man who desires the office rests then in the will of Christ. He will prepare himself, in the event that Christ calls him to the office of elder. If Christ does not, then the man still is spiritually stronger, and he uses the many other opportunities to serve outside the office.

The office of elder is a tremendous blessing which Christ gives to His church. And the elders who labours faithfully can be assured of Christ’s promised blessing: “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:4). Pray for your elders. And pray that God will continue to give His church faithful officebearers, well prepared, filled with the good and proper desire to be used by Christ for the good of His church.

Written by: Prof. Russell Dykstra | Issue 41

Desiring a Good Work (III)

1 Tim. 3:1 – “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”

In the previous two instalments we have examined the office of elder and the “good work” of his office. Now we consider the blessings that an elder receives, and therefore the incentive for men properly to prepare themselves for the office because they desire this good work.

What makes the office of elder desirable? Let us strip away any false ideas about this, lest anyone desire the office for wrong reasons. A man might desire the office because he is drawn to the power and authority of the office. That the office of elder is powerful is without question. The elder has the oversight of the congregation. And, to the elders of the church, God has given the power to open and close heaven. Is there a greater, more significant power than that in all the earth?

But we must notice, first, that the elder’s power is a spiritual, not an earthly power. It is very different from any other conception of power that we might have from life in this world. It is not the power to make people do what one commands. It is not the power to make decisions that are for one’s own benefit or enjoyment. It is rather a spiritual power that is concerned with the salvation of people. And notice secondly, that this power is not personal. The office of elder does not give a man some position of power that he may now speak and everyone must listen and obey. If a man is looking for power, if he wants to have a “say” in how the church should be run, then his motives are totally wrong, and he is not fit for office. Peter warns the elders against this – “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Pet. 5:3). What are the elders? They are servants, that is, ministers of God called to serve God’s flock.

This is such an important point, that it needs to be driven home. That the desire for personal power is a problem and danger in the church is evident from the disciples of Jesus arguing about being the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus instructed them, and every officebearer in His church.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister [that is, one who serves, RJD]; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant [literally, slave, RJD].

And if that does not humble a man, then he must hear the next word from Jesus. After that instruction to the disciples, Jesus, THE office bearer of God, added: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). There is the example to be followed – not to be served, but to serve, a man comes into office. Paul and the other apostles referred to themselves that way – the slaves of Jesus (Act. 4:29, Rom. 1:1, etc., where servant is literally slave). Paul even called himself and his fellow laborers in the gospel slaves of the congregation – “ourselves your servants [slaves] for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5).

That last paragraph brings out a second wrong reason, that is, what may never be the motivation for seeking the office, namely, that a man seek the office for his own honour. Some might imagine that they will gain respect and earn prestige in the office. They might feel as though they are lacking respect if they are not nominated, or not elected to the office. This is a false notion as well. While the congregation is called to honour the officebearers, it is not the man who is honoured. Honour them for their work’s sake, we must. Honour them in their office because they represent Christ. But if a man rules well and labours in the word and therefore is counted worthy of double honour (1 Tim. 5:17), to whom is the honour? It is to the God who made him, and equipped him, and sustains him by His sovereign grace. Any officebearer who does not seek and desire that ALL glory go to God is not worthy of the office. Desire for honour among men is not a proper motive. It is rather the pride of Satan and is destructive to the man and to the church.

Because it is a wrong motive, anyone who seeks the office for that reason will fail. He will try to gain respect and maintain his position among men. And how does one do that? By pleasing men. Making decisions and speaking words that will please them. But, writes Paul, “if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant [slave] of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). And dreadful is Jesus’ warning: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk. 6:26). The man will fail, because God will not share His glory with another. God will remove the man from office.

A third sinful motive for desiring the office is financial gain. Peter warns elders against this explicitly – “not for filthy lucre” (1 Pet. 5:2). In reality, being an elder more likely will result in a decline in his financial situation. The office bearer often pays for various expenses out of his own pocket, such as a coffee or lunch with a member or a visitor. Sometimes he is forced to leave work early in order to do elder’s work. No, an elder will not be become better off financially in the office.

So, why is the office of elder to be desired, if the office provides no earthly advantages or benefits?

The desirability of the office is that it is the work of serving Christ by serving His body the church. The man who properly desires the office does so out of a love for Jesus Christ. The office requires a man who is deeply aware that he is a sinner, and that Jesus saved him with His precious blood. The depth of his sin and deservedness of eternal punishment, on the one hand, and the experiential knowledge of the astounding glory of salvation, on the other hand, these move a man to love and thankfulness. “How can I serve my Lord and Saviour?” he asks. The answer is, in whatever way and to whatever work the Lord calls him. He will serve the Lord as husband, father, church member, worker, and, if the Lord calls him, as an officebearer in the church. It is that simple. If God calls a man, that believer responds with thankful obedience. And even then, it is not that the man is lifted up above the rest of the church members. Rather it is that the Lord has set him in a place where he has more opportunities to serve the body. He now has five or ten talents given him (opportunities to serve, see Matt. 5, the parable of the talents). He will serve God by serving His people.

Clearly this demands that an elder love the saints, that he love the body purchased by Christ. As John expresses it, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 Jn. 4:11). And again, “every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.” (1 Jn. 5:1). The elder loves the members, not in theory, but in truth. He loves the individual members. They are unique – different personalities, struggles, and yes, sins. But he loves them all. And thus he truly desires to serve them. Christ is pleased to serve the needs of His church using men called to the offices in the church. The officebearer then seeks to do the work Christ wants to be done. He will gladly wash the feet of the saints. He will serve them in humility and love. This is a good work.

And there are tremendous blessings in this work – spiritual blessings. The blessing, first and foremost, is growth in the Word of God. This arises out of the work an elder does. The elder who faithfully carries out his duties is constantly in the Bible. He brings the Word of God to the widows, to the sick, to those walking in sin, and to those not living in wisdom. To be able to bring the right word, he searches the Scriptures and seeks to know and understand it better. He searches the Scriptures also to give good advice to those who come to him. He seeks the proper biblical way when dealing with an issue in the church that must be faced and resolved. The elder also grows in the truth of the Bible when he teaches catechism or leads a class or Bible study.

The elder is in the Word in his work of assisting the pastor. He pays special attention to the preaching of the Word. The elder must also evaluate the word preached. Is it 1) confessional (in harmony with the Reformed creeds), 2) exegetical (truly drawn from this text), and 3) antithetical (setting forth the truth over against the lie)? It is not enough that the elder be fed by that word preached; he is evaluating it – is it feeding the sheep? Is it being applied to them in their lives, their sorrows, and their dangers? And, as the elders give help and guidance to the minister in regard to the preaching, the elders are themselves growing in the Word. Spiritual growth is the blessing a faithful elder receives.

Such an elder also grows in wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to take knowledge, add understanding of life, and then be able to apply it in the best way to various situations of life. Sanctified wisdom enables a man to direct his life in paths where he glorifies God the best way that he can. An elder needs wisdom to apply Scripture’s instruction to himself, to the congregation, to the minister, and to the fellow office bearers. Elders seek wisdom, pray for it unceasingly, and thus grow in wisdom by God’s gracious provision. We all can think of certain men and women, usually older members who are wise. They have lived many years and experienced much. They have learned what is foolish, and what is wise. They are able to give good, wise advice. This is God’s blessing on a faithful office bearer – he grows in spiritual wisdom.

More can be said about the spiritual blessings of serving in the office of elder, but this must wait for next time. We will also consider the question – if a man has the good and proper desire for the office of elder, how should he prepare himself?

Written by: Prof. Russell Dykstra | Issue 40

“Order, Please”

Introduction

Young people, do you know that CERC adopted our own Church Order in 2011? It is almost identical to the Church Order of our sister church, the PRCA, whose Church Order is based upon the original Church Order that was adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619. Since adopting our own Church Order officially, we have seen the great benefit of doing so.

The focus of this article would be on the necessity and importance of the Church Order for a church, as well as its uses. As to its history, structure and content of the Church Order, I refer interested readers to other excellent sources that are readily available (see bibliography), which we would all do well to read or refer to for our own spiritual profit.

Necessity and Importance of the Church Order

Why is the Church Order necessary and important for CERC, and indeed for any church? The reason, in the first place, can be found in Article 1 of the Church Order itself: “For the maintenance of good order in the church of Christ”.

Our God is a God of order. He never does anything in a disorderly or haphazard manner. He never does anything arbitrarily, according to His whims and fancies, just because He ‘feels like doing it’. That is simply impossible, because He is infinitely wise and does all things with a clear and definite purpose and goal in mind – His glory (Eph 1:11-12). Whether in creation or redemption, God’s orderliness is unmistakable.

Therefore, it follows that the church of Jesus Christ, Who is very God of very God, is an orderly church. She ought to be. When Jesus gathers His church by His Spirit, He does not bring His sheep into an institution that is loosely organised, where there is no clear code of conduct and whose directions and goals change according to popular opinions   or   personalities.   Rather, the child of God is brought into an institution that is governed according to scriptural principles by lawfully appointed leaders, whose members behave themselves as becoming great sinners saved by Almighty grace, and whose one unchanging goal is the honour and glory of God. That the church is an orderly institution is evident in the way God ruled His church in the Old Testament (i.e. the nation Israel) by many strict rules and regulations that governed every detail of her moral, civil and religious life. In the fullness of time, when the redemptive plan of God extended beyond national Israel to gather His elect from every nation, tongue and tribe, God continued to ensure that there is order in the New Testament church by instituting the offices of ministers, elders and deacons as representatives of the three-fold office of Jesus Christ to rule the church on behalf of her ascended Lord. We know God takes order very seriously in His Church, because of the weightiness of the authority that Jesus gave to His apostles, and by extension to all office- bearers in the NT, when He said, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18,16:19).

Orderliness in the church, for all time, is the will of the unchangeable God of order Himself. The church that understands this will see the necessity and value of adopting a Church Order. The Church Order, as a document laying down clear principles derived from Scripture, for regulating the life of the church in an orderly manner, is critical for a church who seeks to obey the injunction ‘Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:40).

A second reason why the Church Order is necessary and important for a church is because it serves to promote unity and peace in the church. This second reason flows from the first. When there is order in the church, peace and unity prevails. No church is without her own fair share of troubles or conflicts, including the church that has adopted a Church Order. But when troubles and conflicts arise, the church with the Church Order has a ready, reliable reference and guide to deal with them properly, biblically and in an orderly manner. It is not left to the preference of individuals, or the wit of a few intelligent men, or the high-handedness of a forceful leader to resolve the matter or determine the outcome.

The Church Order not only promotes unity within a church, but also in a federation of churches when all the churches adopt the Church Order together as one of their minor confessions. The church institute is called to manifest the spiritual unity of the one holy catholic church of Jesus Christ by establishing ecclesiastical relationships with other churches of like precious faith. These relationships require a certain structure and order to regulate the proper interaction between churches in the federation. The Church Order provides that organizational structure and order that allows the churches in the federation to express and experience their spiritual unity.

A third reason why the Church Order is necessary and important for a church is because it guards the church against false doctrine. It does this by regulating those who teach doctrine in the church, namely the ministers of the gospel. Ministers must be examined by the church as to the orthodoxy of their beliefs. They must be ordained by the church, and bind themselves to teach the confessions of the church. They must be subject to the supervision and rule of the Elders, may be investigated, suspended   or   deposed   from   their office by the church should they become wayward. The Church order also guards the church against false teaching by providing an avenue of protest and appeal to those who object to the teaching of the church. When the leaders of the church err and allow false doctrine to be taught, church members can (and must) bear witness to the truth through the proper avenue of protest and appeal.

How necessary and important is the Church Order for a church? Can a church survive without a Church Order? Probably yes (though I’m not sure for how long). But can it thrive? In my judgment, no.

Uses of the Church Order

The Church Order has great practical value for the local church. I will name but a few here.

First, it guides office-bearers in their rule of the church. The fundamental principle that underlies the entire Church Order is that Jesus Christ is the Head and King of the Church, and He rules her by His Word and Spirit. The office-bearers are NOT the supreme authority in the church. Jesus Christ is. The authority of the office-bearers is a delegated authority, and insofar as they rule according to the principles and commands of Scripture, they wield the authority of Christ Himself. The Church Order is founded upon direct and indirect principles of the Word of God, and hence when office-bearers rule according to it, they may be sure that they are exercising their authority in a lawful manner. The Church Order regulates the keys aspects of church government relating to the marks of the true church, i.e. in the areas of preaching/doctrine, the sacraments and Christian discipline. It is therefore very helpful in keeping the office-bearers focused on their proper calling and not be distracted by many other non- essential and perhaps even illegitimate demands.

Second, the Church Order serves as a rule for members of the church regarding their daily conduct in relation to the office-bearers, as well as to fellow believers. Because it is founded upon the principles of the Word of God, the Church Order is authoritative (albeit derived authority) for the faith and life of the church member whose church has adopted the Church Order. I quote Rev. Vanden Berg: “The believer promises before God and His church that he will submit himself to the rule of the church. He binds himself to these rules of church government. He promises that by the grace of God he will regulate all his life according to these rules. That must not be regarded lightly for it is a very serious matter. It means certainly that our Church Order is the rule for our daily conduct and by it we are to be governed not only in relation to the office-bearers in the church but also in relation to our brothers and sisters of the household of faith. Our Church Order then is certainly no abstraction but, on the contrary, is a matter of greatest practical concern to every member of the church” (Vanden Berg, 1953, pg. 261)

Last but not least, the Church Order is of great practical value for the local church in her mission work. The main goal of every mission work is to establish an instituted church in the field that is self-governing, self- propagating, and self-supporting. In relation to the first aspect, instruction in the Church Order is essential for the group of believers in the mission field who desire to be instituted as a church someday, especially for those among them who are potential office- bearers. They must have a good grasp and understanding of the principles of Reformed church government, of the proper calling and work of the special offices, of the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the importance of church membership and the necessity of Christian discipline. In CERC’s own experience, we have seen how this instruction in the Church Order has helped correct what is a common erroneous practice in India – independent preachers without the oversight of a church. The Church Order has also helped us and the fellowship in India to better understand the validity of administering baptism in the mission field, and guided the Session in coming to a decision to call Bro. Emmanuel Singh as CERC’s missionary to Kolkata, India.

Conclusion

How necessary and important the Church Order is for the church of Jesus Christ in guarding her against false doctrines and promoting her peace and unity! What blessings it brings when there is good order in the church! Young people, know your Church Order. Appreciate it. Then you will know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and in that way seek the good and peace of Zion.

REFERENCES

Vanden Berg, G, (1953). Decency and Order – Introduction. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer Vol 29, Issue 11, pg 261 (http://standardbearer.rfpa. org/articles/introduction-6)

Vanden Berg, G, (1953). Decency and Order – Introduction. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer Vol 29, Issue 12, pg 285 (http://standardbearer.rfpa. org/articles/introduction-contd)

Cammenga, Ronald, (1987). Our Church Order – An Introduction. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 64, Issue 1, pg 18

Cammenga, Ronald, (1987). For Thy Maintenance of Good Order. Michigan, USA: RFPA, Standard Bearer, Vol 64, Issue 2, pgs. 44-46

Hanko, Herman. ‘Notes on Church Order’. http://www .pr ca.org/books/Notes%20on%20the%20Church%20Order%20by%20Herman%20Hanko/CHURCH%20POLIT Y.htm#ARTICLES_53,_54_

Monsma & ven Dellen, (1954). The Church Order Commentary. Eugene, Oregon, USA: Wipf and Stock Publishers

Written by: Lee Kong Wee | Issue 40

Desiring a Good Work (II)

1 Timothy 3:1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

In 1 Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul begins his instruction on the special offices in the church, that is, the offices of Elder, Deacon, and Minister of the Word. Christ is the officebearer of God, the Mediator with the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. Christ calls men to fill these offices in the church on earth as His representatives. He qualifies them and gives them the authority to do His work. These offices are vitally important, for the special offices are the means Christ uses to maintain and bless His church.

In 1 Timothy 3:1, the Spirit reminds the church that it is a privilege to be called by Christ to the special offices. Therefore, the man who desires to hold such an office desires a good work. The question that remains is: Why is it “good”? We concluded the previous article with a brief answer: the “good” character of the work is due to the fact that the office is from God. It is His work. To be more specific, it is good because it is the work of Jesus Christ who directs the church to the right activity. Christ cares for His church as a father cares for his children. In our consideration of 1 Timothy 3:1, we now turn our attention to the “good work” of the Elder.

The Lord Jesus rules His church through the office of Elder. The rule of the Elder begins with the life and work of the Minister. Yes, Elders are to rule over the Minister’s life. They must take heed to his “conversation.” The Minister must be a godly example to all, and at all times. The Minister must not be a stumbling block to others. And his life must never contradict his preaching for a lifestyle that is contrary to the preaching robs the preaching of its power. The hearers will begin to despise both the Minister and the Word that he brings. In addition, a Minister’s folly or sin will give occasion for enemies of the Truth to blaspheme. It is up to the Elders to rule over the Minister so that this never happens, but that rather, the Minister adorns the preaching with a godly life.

In addition, the Elder rules over the preaching. Obviously, the Minister must preach the truth drawn from the Bible. The Elders must see to it that there is no false doctrine in his teaching and preaching. In fact, the preaching must explicitly reject the lie and defend the truth over against current errors. In addition, the Elders must be sure that the Minister preaches the whole counsel of God. The warnings of Scripture and the admonitions must be clearly sounded in preaching if it is to be a key of the kingdom of heaven. In short, the Elders are responsible for the preaching. It must set forth Christ crucified and risen again. This preaching will glorify God in Jesus Christ, and will edify the congregation.

This is one of the most difficult aspects of the Elders’ work. Elders need much wisdom in order to help a Minister preach such sermons. If an Elder takes this aspect of his work seriously, he will be very attentive to the preaching, will be very much “in the Word” and giving   thoughtful   consideration   to the preaching weekly. In this spiritual activity, he will grow tremendously in wisdom and knowledge.

Another significant aspect of the Minister’s work that the Elders must oversee is his catechetical instruction of the youth. Elders must carefully observe both the content of the instruction and the manner of giving instruction. Catechism is part of the official teaching of the church. This is a primary means of building up the youth in the truth. Elders oversee this work by visiting the classes. They take note as to whether the youth are in fact growing in their knowledge and love for the Reformed faith.

The Elders’ oversight includes the Minister’s work in family visitation. Elders observe his work because they accompany the Minister and assist in it. The final significant area of the Minister’s work is in pastoral labours. Here, too, Elders have responsibilities. To some extent, Elders must know what their Minister is doing. No doubt there ought to be some privacy between pastor and member. Nonetheless, these labours of the pastor are yet subject to the authority of Elders.

Since they have oversight of the life and work of the Minister, wisdom is essential for Elders. They must know how to take oversight without improperly   dominating   a   Minister, or overextending their authority into every area of a Minister’s life. Those who desire to be faithful Elders will pray continually for wisdom from the Spirit. And a wise Minister will rejoice in the proper oversight of his labours by such men.

The second main work of the Elders is supervision of the Deacons. This also   demands   wisdom,   for   Elders must not make Deacons to be sort of “junior Elders.” Deacons have their own labour—the ministry of mercy in the church. The Elders may not simply assign work to the Deacons as though they are the servants of the Elders.

Yet, as rulers in the church, Elders are called to supervise the work of the Deacons in wisdom. It is not their calling to hang over the shoulder of the Diaconate and direct every move they make, for example, who receives money and how much. The Elders supervise first in that they must see to it that Deacons are faithfully carrying out the duties of their office. Are the Deacons doing the work Christ calls them to do? And then, in the second place, the Elders must watch for a possible abuse by a member of the office of Deacon. Deacons are very close to the work and bestow benevolence out of love and mercy towards the poor in the congregation. It is possible then that they do not recognise a misuse of the office. Then the Elders must point that out to them. As with the Minister, the Elders must see to it that lives of the Deacons are above reproach.

The Elder oversees the work of the Minister and the Deacons. They also exercise oversight of each other. Paul so taught the Elders of Ephesus as he left them to embark on his third missionary journey—“Take heed to yourselves” (Acts 20:28). Elders must take heed to the walk of life of the fellow Elders. And they must see to it that each faithfully executes the duties of the office.

The Reformed (Biblical) form of church   government   insists   on   the parity (equality) of the three offices. In harmony with that principle, the three offices exercise mutual oversight. The Church Order of Dordt (Art. 81) calls for mutual censure to be done at set times—at least four times a year. This is the oversight of the Elders over officebearers.

The main work of the Elders is the oversight of the congregation. The form for the ordination of Elders sets forth their responsibilities. The Elders have authority to watch both the confession and lives of the members. Specifically, the form teaches that Elders are to diligently look that every member properly deports himself. They are called to admonish the disorderly. Understand that the Elders need not wait for a session meeting to do this. The Elder is in the office twenty-four hours a day. He is personally called to do this as part of work. Of course, his admonitions of members must not be based on his opinions, but only on the teaching of the Bible.

The Elders are also called to exercise Christian   discipline,   also   known as the “last remedy.” Long before excommunication, the Elders visit members who are living in impenitent sin. They admonish sinners officially. They do all in their power to lead sinners back to the truth and to godliness. All their labours must be done out love for the member. And, if necessary, the Elders are called to remove the impenitent members out of the church.

Scripture makes it plain that this work of oversight is the care of the congregation as shepherds of the flock of Christ. Paul’s instruction to the Elders of Ephesus recorded in Acts 20:28 ff. indicates this pastoral (shepherding) nature of the Elders’ work. Paul admonished them to take heed to the flock, that is, pay attention to the congregation. Elders must know the congregation; young and old, single members, as well as families. What are their lives like? With what difficulties are they struggling? How might they need assistance? Elders make it a point to know.

Besides, said Paul, you must feed this flock. Elders have the responsibility for the spiritual nourishment of the congregation. Paul also required them to watch against false doctrine, and any “wolves” who seek to enter the fold pretending to be sheep, and finally, “support the weak.” Take special care of those who are vulnerable, who are spiritually or physically in a position of weakness.

Additional inspired revelation of the pastoral nature of the Elders’ work is found in 1 Timothy 3:5. Paul indicates that the Elders are to preside over their own houses well. This is not simply to rule over the household, but rather to see that all things are done properly. Clearly, that activity of presiding over something will take much time and attention.

The Spirit then compares the Elder presiding over his own house to taking care of the church. We think of an Elder ruling, but Paul does not say rule. Rather he is to take care of the church. This word is used twice in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10). He took the wounded men to an inn, and “took care of him.” Then the good Samaritan continued on his journey, but instructed the inn keeper, “Take care of him….” So likewise must the Elders take care of the church. This involves much more than dealing with the church as if it were a “business”. And far more that merely ruling, it involves the work of shepherds caring for sheep. An Elder must have love and compassion for God’s people. His work is pastoral.

The Reformed church’s understanding of this is reflected in the Church Order and the Form for Ordination of Elder. Elders are to visit the families regularly. The idea is not merely official family visitation. It implies other, informal meetings when an Elder calls a family to say that he would like to come over and visit. The visit is not sought because there is a problem. Rather, says the Elder, “I simply desire to get to know you and your children. I hope to get a better understanding of your life, struggles, and trials. The purpose is that I might better help you, either now or in time of adversity.” To accomplish this, it might be best to divide the congregation into districts and assign an Elder or pair of Elders to a specific group so that they would be responsible for these members and give them special care.

The Form for Elders’ ordination also indicates that Elders must be ready with good counsel and advice. This, first to the Minister. This is very important, for Elders know the congregation much better than the Minister. They should also be ready to give good advice on his work. But the Form exhorts them to give good counsel to any and all in the congregation. This is the calling of Elders! The congregation, therefore must not be afraid to go to them for help and advice. They are prepared to help.

Consider also these questions that church visitors may ask about the work of the Elders:

  1. Do the Elders regularly attend the services for divine worship as well as the consistory meetings?
  1. Do they at set times attend the catechism classes to see how they are conducted and attended; and do they assist the Minister in catechizing when there is a need?
  1. Do they see to it that Christian discipline is exercised, and that everything is done honourably and in good order?
  1. Do the Elders visit the sick and others in agreement with the calling of their office?
  1. Do they try to prevent and remove all offense in the congregation, and try to comfort and instruct the members?
  1. Do they conduct themselves as examples to the congregation in their family and outward walk of life?

Clearly, faithful Elders spend themselves in the care for the church of Jesus Christ.

In the next (and last) instalment, we will consider the blessing that an Elder receives, and therefore the incentive for men properly to prepare themselves for the office, because they desire this good work.

Written by: Prof. Russell Dykstra | Issue 39

What is Reformed? Reformed in Church Government (IV)

Introduction

I have nearly finished the series of articles I wrote on the meaning of “Reformed” for Salt Shakers, and will make this the last one in that series. We have discussed that to be Reformed involves our theology, our worship and the government of the church. We have discussed all of these including church government; the only one that remains to be discussed is the office of deacons in the church. I propose to address that problem in this last and concluding article along with the question of the responsibilities of those who hold the office of all believers.

The Importance of the Office of Believer

In the life of the church institute, for which Scripture lays down certain rules to be observed, and are also rules underlying our Church Order, the office of believers is the most important. It is the most important, first of all, because the believer, who holds this office, holds a three-fold office: prophet, priest and king. He receives that office as a true believer who is united to Christ by faith and receives also the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism tells us, that, because we have the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we are called “Christians.”

The office of believers is the most important office in the church, because finally, the entire rule in the church can be traced back to the office of believers. If you question that statement, then think of how a new congregation is organised. It is organized by a group of believers who come together to decide to organize a church. They have the right to do this as believers. They decide to do this because there is no other church in the area that has the marks of the true church. After deciding to organize such a church, they probably ask for a list of the names of confessing men as the heads of households (in which case they enrol the wives and children along with the men) and single men who have confessed their faith.

These men then proceed to vote for elders and deacons from nominations made from the floor by the men themselves. The men chosen are then ordained. If a minister or missionary is present, he will probably guide the meeting as chairman and proceed to ordain the newly chosen office bearers. The constituted body of elders will then, in due time, propose a trio of ministers to the congregation and the confessing male members will proceed to call a minister.

However, as I have written earlier, the relation between the office bearers and the congregation is unique. The relation is one of a delicate balance that will work only where there is godly trust on the part of all the members. The whole relationship seems to an unbeliever to be hopelessly confusing; but it is not, for both the office of believers and those who hold special office in the church serve Christ, who is the Head of the church.

And so the office of believers holds the final authority in the church and participates actively in the government of the church. But at the same time, he subjects himself to the rule of the elders—as he is admonished to do by Scripture. He rules and is ruled— both.

The Believer’s Obligation to the Church

You can understand what a great responsibility each believer has toward the church. The church is always your first concern in life. Nothing must ever interfere with your responsibility towards Christ’s church. It is Christ who is the Head of the church; and Christ the Head of the church has given you the most important office in the church.

The church is the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven here on earth and therefore, Jesus’ words apply to us in our relation to the church: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

The word “first” in Jesus’ words does not mean “on the top of the list” of the things we are permitted to seek: so that we could continue the list with 2. Our studies; 3. Our home; 4. Our car; 5. Our vacations; 6. Our clothes; etc. Jesus means “first” as the principle of everything we do, so that everything is a part of our seeking the kingdom, that is, the church. The church is number one in our lives and the welfare of the church is our greatest joy.

That means that we seek the unity of the church (Ephesians 4:1-3) and the peace of the church (Psalm 122). (By the way, it might interest you to know that I preached on the last verses of this Psalm in my first sermon in the first congregation I served.)

The believer does the work in the church that is asked of him/her no matter what it is. A believer is anxious to contribute to the welfare of the church in any way he can.

The Believer’s Obligation to the Minister

There are two texts in the Bible that define our calling when we come into God’s house to hear the preached word. One is Ecclesiastes 5:1-2: “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house if God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”

The other is James 1:19-25. I won’t quote the passage here, because it is too long. But you may read it yourselves; and you can find a commentary on these verses in my commentary on James, which only a short time ago was published by the RFPA.

The Believer’s Obligation Toward His Elders

There are texts in the Bible that exactly define our calling towards our elders. I referred to them earlier and will not discuss them here. They are especially Hebrews 12:7, 17 and I Thessalonians 5:12-13.(Look them up.)

In addition to these texts it is important when your elders admonish you or even speak to you, to learn from them. When the elders come to inquire into your spiritual well-being you must receive them gladly, speak freely to them and seek their counsel in any problems you may have. This happens especially on family visitation.

It reminds me of an experience I had while on family visitation. I always asked the young people whether they watched movies especially in theatres. One young man admitted that he and his girlfriend often attended movies. Upon hearing this, the father interrupted and berated his son angrily. I said nothing. At the end of his tirade, the son said, “Yes, father, but you watch the same things on our TV set.” The father was a bit nonplussed and did not know what to say. I still remained silent. After a stretch of silence, the father said, “Yes, but we watch at home. When you go to theatres you are with wicked people.” “No,” the son said, “We go to drive- in theatres where we stay in our car.” That gave me the opportunity to enter the discussion with the whole family about the evils of drama whether in theatres or on TV or on DVDs.

My point is that God put your elders into office so that you may seek counsel from them at any time. Some people rather talk with the minister, and there is nothing wrong with that; but the minister, while he too is an elder is to be busy in studying God’s Word and making sermons. The elders are the ones God appointed to care for the sheep (Acts 20:28-35).

God even tells parents that if they have a wayward child who will not listen to them, they are to bring the child to the elders (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). This is God’s way of dealing with stubborn children, and in my experience, I have found that it is often the way God uses to change a young man or woman that they may be obedient to their parents.

I have on occasion put a troubled and burdened mother under the care of an older and wise mother in the congregation so that an older and sympathetic mother can help a young mother through difficult times. Often a young mother will be hesitant to tell her minister personal problems, while she is free to tell an older mother in the church.

But if such a mother helps a new and young mother or if the minister himself engages in pastoral work, the older mother ought to report to the minister or an elder, and the minister ought to inform the elders at every Session meeting of all his pastoral calls and what is the problem, if any, with which he is dealing. The elders rule in the church.

The Believer’s Obligation Towards the Deacons

It is my judgment that there are two extremes in the church of Christ in which people in the church err in their relationship to deacons. One error is to go to the deacons for financial help when they are in poverty because they have not been good stewards of their earthly possessions, and by foolish spending have buried themselves in debt. Sometimes gambling does this to a family, sometimes drunkenness, but sometimes just foolish purchasing of things people covet and buy whether they can afford it or not. In such cases those who need help from the deacons need also instruction from the elders, and the deacons must so inform the elders. Sometimes when poor stewardship is the reason for poverty, the deacons themselves can instruct the poor in Scripture’s teachings. I

have even, in my ministry,told the deacons to enlist the aid of their wives to help a mother who squanders money how to be a good steward – especially in grocery shopping.

Sometimes people are reluctant to go to the deacons even though they need help. I have found, in my ministry, there are two reasons for this. One is that people refuse to go to the deacons because they think the deacons should come to them. Their reasoning is that Christ comes to his people; we do not come to Christ. We must not, we are told, be Arminian.

I came once on family visitation to a family that, in the dead of winter, were wearing all their winter clothing. The water in the toilet bowl was frozen for they had no heat, and they had nothing to eat except dandelion greens, which they dug for under the snow. When I asked them why they did not go to the deacons, their answer was, “The deacons are supposed to come to us.” It was no time for arguments, so I called the chairman of the diaconate and told him to get deacons down to their house immediately, which also they did. But they had to be told that, while it is true that Christ first comes to us, he nevertheless says, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.”

Sometimes people do not want the deacons to come because they are proud and do not want to admit that they are in need of help. This is indeed pride, for going to the deacons is the same as going to Christ. Christ has, in his inscrutable wisdom, and through such means as loss of job or grave illness, put them in circumstances in which they need the help of Christ. And Christ helps them through the office of deacons.

Poor people in the church are a blessing, for it is more blessed to give than to receive. Christ reminds his disciples, when Mary anointed his feet with expensive perfumes, that he himself would see to it that the church always has poor. These people are necessary for the spiritual well-being of the congregation. It is a privilege to come to the deacons for help.

I was talking once with a man from another denomination who told me a story out of his own experience. He was a member of a Reformed Church, but certainly not a faithful church. He told me that he had gone to his deacons when he was in desperate need, and the deacons told him to go to governmental agencies to get help. The deacons did not want to follow Solomon’s instruction in the book of Proverbs: “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Yet still today some rather go to the government than to the church.

The Believer’s Obligation Towards His Fellow Saints

The believers in the church of Christ must do exactly the same towards their fellow saints as the office bearers do. Because believers are prophets, they must bring God’s Word in all their contacts with their fellow saints. In Bible study groups, in their mutual discussions when visiting with or talking to their fellow saints, they

must put all their conversation within the context of God’s word. If they comfort each other in times of sorrow, strengthen each other when one bears a heavy burden, and encourage each other when their pilgrimage is difficult, they must always come with God’s word.

Because God’s people are kings, they are concerned about the spiritual welfare of their fellow saints and they must admonish them, but with the word of God. Two texts especially come to mind. One is found in Galatians 6:1-2:“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” The other text is in James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

And because all God’s people are priests, they are to help one another with all kinds of help when their brother or sister is in need. They may help with meals, help with running errands for the helpless, help with money necessary, help with doing work for one who needs work done and cannot do it; help in babysitting when a mother is overwhelmed with her responsibilities, etc. And it is the duty and obligation of the person needing help to receive it graciously and in the spirit of love. In these and other situations, God’s people come with God’s word also – as the deacons do when they help the poor.

The office of believers is and can be a very busy office. When Dorcas died, all the women in the town were broken with grief because “she was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did” (Acts 9:36-43).

When those who hold special offices in the church, and when all the members seek the good of the church and not their own good, the congregation is richly blessed. It shines in the world as a light on a hill, and God uses such a church to bring many to faith in Christ.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 37

The Principles and Values of the Church Order

Dear young people,

The Church Order of Dordrecht occupies a treasured and venerable place in the life of the Reformed Churches. It was adopted by the National Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-19 and therefore this makes the Church Order close to about 400 years old. The Church Order was not written in the ivory tower of theological learning, but it was written and developed organically from the life of the church. It was forged under the anvil of severe trials, troubles and great persecutions. On 1 March 2011, our Session adopted a Church Order, which was adapted from the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches that reflected the life of our Church. And, after adopting the Church Order, we are in the process of implementing it. This article is written as an introduction to the Church Order so that you will understand the principles, development, authority and value of its eighty-six articles, with the goal that the Church Order will be greatly appreciated by you and used in the life of the Church.

The Development of the Church Order

We owe a great debt of gratitude to John Calvin for developing the principles of the Church Order in his writings, though he did not have a hand in formulating the articles of the Church Order. The history of the development of the Church Order of Dordrecht stretched from the 1300s to 1618-19 where it was finally adopted by the National Synod of Dordrecht. It was developed through the struggles, controversies and persecutions of the Dutch Churches. Besides John Calvin, other reformers made significant contributions to the development of the principles, namely, Ulrich Zwingli and John A Lasco, amongst others. Various synods in the continent, through their synodical decisions, developed the articles that are found in the National Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-19, namely, the Walloon Synods (1555 – 1566), the Synod of Wezel (1568), Synod of Embden (1571), Provincial Synod of Dordrecht (1574), the National Synod of Dordrecht (1578) and the Synod of Middleburg (1581).

 

What is the Church Order?

The Church Order contains principles and regulations of church government that regulate the life of the church. It also contains regulations for the broader assemblies of the classes and synods. The Church Order is not a set of rules filled with Do’s and Don’ts, nor is it a detailed rule book for every conceivable situation in the church, nor is it meant to settle arguments over fine points of interpretations. Rather, the positive purpose of the Church Order is that “all things be done decently and in order” 1

Cor. 14:40. And in order for good order to be maintained, it “is necessary that there be offices, assemblies, supervision of doctrine, sacraments and ceremonies, and Christian discipline …” (Article 1 of the Church Order). And with that purpose in mind, the Church Order is divided into the Offices (Art. 1 to 28), of Ecclesiastical Assemblies (Art. 29 –52), of Doctrines, Sacraments, and other Ceremonies (Art. 53 to 70), and of Censure and Ecclesiastical Admonition (Art. 71 to 86).

 

The Principles

The Church Order contains a set of principles of Church Government that is drawn from the pages of Holy Scriptures. First, the chief principle is that Christ is the head of the Church.

Scripture often presents the relationship between Christ and the Church in terms of the human body, where Christ is the head and the church is the various members of His body (1 Cor. 12:27), and the vine and the branches, where Christ is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5). This means that all the life of the church must be in harmony with the will of the King.

Secondly, Christ, the office-bearer of God in the one, threefold office of Prophet, Priest and King, is pleased to rule His Church through men appointed by Him – the office bearers. Thus, the minister represents Christ in the office of prophet, the elder in the office of king, and the deacon in the office of priest.

Lastly, the Church Order of Dordrecht carefully maintains the delicate balance in Reformed Church polity between the autonomy of the local church and the necessary federation of churches. Reformed Church Polity rejects hierarchy by insisting that members of the church submit themselves unto the rule of the plurality of elders, under the headship of Christ. And on the other hand, it urges independent churches to join themselves to a federation of churches and to submit themselves to the decisions of the broader assemblies.

 

The Authority of the Church Order

The Church Order is a minor confession in the Reformed Church. This does not mean that it is unimportant, but rather, its scope is limited as it sets forth principles of Church Government. Its authority in the life of the Reformed Churches is based upon the principles of God’s Word. Therefore, the authority of the Church Order is a derived authority and it means that the Church Order must always be subject to the infallible teachings of the Word of God. And if there is additional light shown through the study of the Holy Scriptures, the articles in the Church Order can be revised to reflect the correct teachings of Scripture. Furthermore, for the sake of the profit of the church, the articles in the Church Order can be “altered, augmented or even diminished” (Art.

86). In short, the Church Order serves the edification of the Church and not that the Church serves the Church Order. Finally, the Church Order is authoritative for another reason: the willing consent of the churches themselves. The Churches that belong to the federation mutually agree to willingly bind themselves to abide by the Church Order. Churches that join or remain in the federation willingly agree to be bound by the Church Order so that the binding authority of the Church Order is the authority we willingly consent to give it.

 

The Value for Today

  1. The affairs in the church may be done in order and decently

God is not a God of chaos or disorder and therefore, God is glorified when the Church follows the commands of the apostle to regulate matters according to the order in 1 Cor. 14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” and verse 40, “Let all things be done decently and in order”. The context of these verses is that the speaking of unknown tongues must be interpreted and are to be spoken one by one; prophecy is to be preferred to tongues-speaking, and women are to keep silence in the church and let them ask their husbands at home for it is a shame for them to speak in the church. The latter had to do with speaking authoritatively in the church – something which is only reserved for the men in the congregation. And, for the sake of good order, the Church has the office bearers: ministers, elders and deacons performing their calling faithfully. Lording over others, hierarchy and tolerating sins are removed from the church.

  1. Preserves the unity of the church

The basis of church unity lies not only on the 3 Forms of Unity, but also on the Church Order. All the member churches of the federation subscribe to the Church Order and agree to abide by its regulation. In this way, the practices of the member churches, though they are autonomous, are united. This unity is beautiful in the sight of God, as it is not a unity in uniformity, or sameness, but a unity in diversity. This unity is like that of a human body where it is united by a diversity of its members with hands, legs and body. This unity is maintained when member churches in the federation conform themselves to the practices of the Church Order by modifying inconsistent practices and reforming their practices to agree to the Church Order.

  1. Regulative purposes

The Church Order regulates the life of the church in the consistory, classis and synod. It also regulates the calling and election of minister, elder and deacon, and the theological training and examination of a theological student. The Church Order also regulates the very important aspect of church discipline in silent censure, and the several admonitions given to the sinner before he is cut off from the church. It also stipulates that member churches are obligated to seek advice before the consistory goes ahead with the extreme measure of excommunication.

  1. It is a confession of the Church

The Church Order is a minor confession of the Church, like the various liturgical forms: for Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and the Ordination of Elders and Deacons while the major confessions are the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt. The Church Order confesses what the church believes on the matter of church governance and describes how the church ought to be governed. Therefore, the church order is the banner that the church unfurls as a testimony to friends and foes alike.

  1. Connects us to the church of the past

The Reformed Church is not an independent church, separate from the rest of the true or faithful church, but it belongs to the single stream that flows from the apostolic church. Therefore, the apostolic doctrine belongs to the Reformed Church, including its Confessional formulations in the Ecumenical Creeds like the Apostles’ Creed, Nicaea Creeds, and Constantinople Creeds. The formulations from the creeds are the fruit of the doctrinal controversies that plagued the church. Let us not forget that we are the beneficiaries of the formulations of the Reformed and Presbyterian Creeds like the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

  1. Serves a judicial purpose

In times of conflict in the Church, whether in terms of personal protests or doctrinal controversies, the Church Order points the way of solving conflicts by appeals to Classis and to the final appeal to Synod. In our case of CERC, since we do not have a classis and synod at this time, there is a possibility that we may seek advice from our sister church in the PRCA to make a judgment on a matter. It has been said about independent churches that they are “dead-end streets” because when there is a conflict, there is no way they can address the issues. The issues of the problems will remain unresolved and single churches or denominations may be split as a result of controversies. But, it may not prevent the dissolving of a denomination, like in the case of the ERCS, where there was a deadlock on the matter of Divorce and Remarriage.

 

Dear young people, I hope that you can appreciate what a great heritage you have in the Church Order. May you learn the principles of Church Government and the regulations found therein so as to apply it throughout your life in the life of the Church. May God bless each one of you.

Written by: Paul Goh | Issue 10