************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 31 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on February 28, 2010
Belgic Confession Article 31
Well, as we look at Article 31 this evening you see there in your handout that it says there the officers of the church. And when I say the term ‘officer', what's the first thing that probably comes to mind? And if you're anything like me probably the first thing that comes to mind is something along the lines of ‘I don't know how fast I was going', or ‘you're right, I should have slowed down'. Probably the first thing that comes to mind is the idea of a police officer. When we hear the term officer we think of something of official, a public office, we think of a representative, an administrator, an executive, a position that falls under the description more likely than not of a public servant.
But what about when we're talking about the church? Well, last week we talked about the government of the church and we got that answered. We've already talked about this to get a start. We've already learned that the government of the church is the pastor, the elder, the deacon. And now we get a description of what it means that they are officers in the church. How they are to be regarded as officers. And I look at that term because just as we say generally, usually that term officer brings to mind the idea of a public servant. When we talk about it in the church it's no different, except it means the church's servant, or really, more specifically, Christ's servant. When we speak of these offices of elder, pastor, of deacon we are speaking of the offices of Christ's servants. And there are certain things that these officers are to receive and that's really what this article is concerned with telling us. The previous article sort of describes who these officers are and this one is more concerned with telling us what these officers are to receive.
And we're told first they are to receive a call. Second they are to receive equality. And finally they are to receive respect. Fairly simple things, but with tremendous implications for how we look at officers in the church.
The first is this idea of a call, and fittingly that comes first because how can you have an officer in the church if they're not called? And where does this calling come from? Well, first and foremost a calling of an officer in the church must come from God. But how? How does this calling from God work itself out? Well, we believe when we speak of calling that it happens in two ways. We always talk about the internal and the external calling. Or the inward and the outward calling. And that's the focus of this article.
The beginning of this article is that call to the office. The call and how it should take place. And when talking about the inward call it gives us the picture mainly of how its not supposed to take place. When you feel a sense of calling to the ministry, the eldership, to the deaconate, it's not to take place in the sense of what we're told here, of being improperly done, of being pushed forward improperly.
Now I couldn't help but think about school elections immediately when I heard this terminology, the picture we have here of kind of pushing yourself forward improperly. Because I don't know about how it is today, because with each passing year high school becomes further and further away, but when I was in high school, high school elections were very little about actually caring about the student body and much more about popularity contests. And most people who were putting their names forward for president, vice-president, treasurer, well, maybe the secretary actually cared about the position, cuz there really wasn't too much popular about having to take the notes of all the minutes of the meetings. But the president and the vice-president usually cared very little about the school, they really cared about having their egos stroked and being told how popular they were and having all the kids in the school make them feel really good. I should know, I ran for vice-president. But that was kind of the whole idea behind the school government, it was to put your name forward, it was to not really care about the betterment of the school or the student body. It was to push your own agenda forward .
And in Biblical times this concept was very similar in church office. And we saw that last week when Rev. Van Ee spoke. We have that picture very often of church leaders. The church leaders we saw in Daniel, these false prophets who are often presented to us in the Bible. Remember in Daniel 3 these prophets that were brought before Nebuchadnezzar. They weren't there out of any real devotion to God, they weren't there out of really any devotion to the king, they were there out of devotion to themselves and their own agenda. That's why they said ‘tell me the dream O king, and we will interpret' because they really had no desire to serve, they really had no power or wisdom. They only cared for their own power, for the favor of the king. And it was Daniel who was truly called, Daniel who truly desired to serve God. And in Jeremiah 23 we see a wonderful picture of God's indictment, of people such as these that the Belgic Confession is speaking about, an indictment where God is making a declaration against lying prophets, where He used the terminology where He says ‘I didn't send them', yet they ran with their messages. ‘I didn't speak to them' and yet they spoke, they prophesied. This picture about people putting themselves forward improperly.
And so it is with many desires in our church today, it's a real struggle still today where people want to put themselves forward for power, popularity, that's improper reason. The proper reason for office is a sense of calling, an internal calling, the Holy Spirit calling, through prayer, through study of scripture, through understanding the word of God and saying ‘I believe the Lord is showing to me that I have the gifts of a pastor, elder or deacon'. We believe the Lord is calling me to one of these offices, an internal calling is necessary.
But an internal calling is nothing without an external calling, that it is to say it must be confirmed by the church, which is also what this confession really wants to make so crystal clear in article 31. Because you know when you don't have an external calling to confirm an internal calling what you usually get is a cult.
You look at Joseph Smith and he had a very, very, very strong internal calling but he had no external calling to check him and say, ‘Joseph, you're crazy, you need to back off of these crazy ideas that you have'. He had no external confirmation of these ideas that he was having that he was convinced was a true internal calling.
And that's why we get this format in scripture, which is so clear that the church must confirm whatever internal calling a person is feeling. So people are called to an office. And even in the earliest in the New Testament church we see that practice beginning. After Judas had left the office so dishonorably, two people are put forth in Acts 1 to replace him. And then in Acts 6 we see this method again where more apostles are chosen, more disciples are chosen, elected. And this beloved, I would tell you is why we think elections are so important in the church. It's not just a hoop we jump through. When it takes a long time for the counting of ballots and we end up singing a bunch of hymns and it can seem like something tedious I would encourage you to remember this article, and to remember the words of scripture that's it's a beautiful thing that we participate in to confirm the calling of men to the office of the service of God. And I pray that you take it seriously because it's not just simply a popularity contest. And I pray that you search your heart and you search scripture and you pray over the vote when it is to come and ask who is it that will serve God best and has the gifts of an elder, of a deacon, of a pastor. Cuz the external call confirms that internal call that is upon an officer's heart. It is a way that God calls the service.
And again this was so important at the time of the Reformation when the Belgic Confession was written because this had totally been lost, it had been thrown by the wayside. Hierarchy and dynasty had been instated. That's what was happening in the Roman Catholic Church, it was like a monarchy where kings passed it down to other kings, to princes. You know popes passed it down to whoever came after them. There was a dynasty mentality in the church and the Reformation said this should not be. Should be calling both internally and externally from the officer and from the church.
And those who receive this call to pastor, to elder, to deacon also receive as we're told in this article something else, equality. Equality is something very prominent as we find in this article and it's really in regards to the office of pastor, that's the focus' even though it's true of all the elders, and of all the deacons.
The focus that we see in this article is on that of pastor, that unique equality. And if you think of other offices like that which we were talking about in the beginning there's always levels, aren't there? When you think of, you know, police officers, when you think of government officials, you know if you think of in ancient times of different offices of kings and dukes and knights, there's always levels, vertical levels. You know even in our government where we would say that we're not a hierarchy, there's still levels that go up and down to our officials.
But what we find here in this article is that we see that the church is or should be different. I was trying to think of a way to illustrate that but I can't because where else do you see that, where there's one boss and a bunch of co-workers. Nothing else, no manager, no foreman, no assistant managers, no right hand man. Nothing, just one boss and a bunch of co-workers. There's really no other illustration that I could think of and part of that reason is because we are wired to institute these hierarchies to institute these power struggles to go away from this idea that we find in the church here in the role of these offices. And we see that already in scripture.
Remember in 1 Corinthians at the beginning of the book, what is Paul saying to the church, talking about their fighting, saying you know you're saying I follow Cephas, I follow Apollos, I follow Paul. And he tells them that the exact wrong way to look at the church, you're not following different people, you're following Christ, we're supposed to be co-laborers and co-workers, you're missing the point.
It was the same state in the Catholic church in the day, the Roman Catholic church with these hierarchies where one pastor and one preacher and one pope was over and under another. And it's a danger that hasn't disappeared today and it's not just in the Roman Catholic church.
I think we face a real danger of that in our church today, in the evangelical church, the protestant church, outside of the Roman Catholic church. I think we find that in larger churches, these mega-churches where you get a ton of pastors. We may not have an official hierarchy but when you get these ornate job descriptions, you know, where you have the youth pastor, and the pastor of congregational life and the pastor of the nursery and the pastor of parking lot duties. I mean eventually people start to think one of these guys is more important than the others, surely the pastor of congregational life is more important than the pastor of parking lot duties and hierarchies get created. But we don't believe that.
You know Rev. Van Ee was just here and he's a church planter. You know the church up in Fresno with Paul Lindemulder, Rev. Lindemulder's church there's a chaplain, Rev. Gary Findley and he's a prison chaplain. You know Pastor Dieleman and I, we have different duties here. And there are pastors who serve as professors, there are churches that they serve at really their main role is to serve as professors, full-time professors down at Westminster Seminary and up at Mid-America Reformed Seminary. So here you have different job descriptions, a church planter, full-time ministry at a regular church, full-time prison chaplain, full-time professors. And yet we believe that they're all equal. There's not one higher or lower than the other. All these offices, all these pastors are equal and the question that we ask is why.
Why can we say that? Why is not one pastor higher than the other? Why is not one pastor over another? Well there's two reasons. It's because we are co-laborers first of all, we are laborers for the same cause. We are laborers for the proclamation of the good news of the gospel and we're either all in it together or we're not in the same cause. And if we're in the same cause we're all on the same level. 1 Corinthians 3 says we are God's fellow workers. And in 2 Corinthians 5, we are therefore Christ's ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us. That is the first reason, we are common co-laborers working towards a common goal.
And the second reason is that Christ is our only head. You know as I said it's one boss, many co-workers. Christ is the only head, there's no pope, there's no executive director who is above and a better pastor, the greater preacher who has more authority than all the others. There is one who is over, Christ, the head.
As our text said this evening in Ephesians 1, God placed all things under His feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fulfills everything in every way. In Colossians 1 we're told He is the head over His body, the church and in 1 Peter 2 He is called the shepherd and the overseer. We are equal because Christ is the one who is over us all.
And that truth of equality, that truth of equality amongst preachers helps to point us away from ourselves and point us to Christ, which is what our goal is, to point us to Christ and Him crucified. That is what the Reformation is all about. They looked at the state of the church as they said this hierarchy is madness because you're taking people's eyes away from the Gospel and you're putting it on the pope, you're putting it on a man and you're telling people that he is perfect that he's sinless and you're expecting them not to look at him? They said this is foolishness. And you're saying Peter is the first pope? Well then, how can you not look at 1 Peter 5 where Peter refers to his listeners as fellow elders. He doesn't look at them as underlings, as servants, he looks at them as fellow co-laborers.
Likewise in the Reformation so many of these great men, these great Reformers got it. And I think one of the most wonderful testimonies to that was John Calvin who wanted expressly for his grave to be unmarked. It may seem kind of an odd thing but he knew the mentality of the day, he wanted to make sure that his grave didn't become a shrine. That he didn't become a new saint and that his tombstone didn't become a new sacred relic. Because he knew that he was just another pastor. He may have attained a great name and his writings may have attained great fame and he may have given the gospel great clarity but the last thing he wanted was glory and honor for himself because he knew he was nothing greater than a pastor who had a small parish, who had a small, tiny church with five families that showed up faithfully every Sunday. He knew that he was no greater than that pastor if that pastor faithfully proclaimed Jesus Christ. He knew that officers receive equality, they are called, they are equal and also in Christ they therefore are to receive respect.
It's true that these officers were told their place above the congregation in authority, they are to keep God's holy order, that is the role. They're to keep it from being violated, or despised, they are put it a role of authority and so they are to receive respect we're told finally, to be esteemed. And this can be hard, can't, it can be hard to give respect for many different reasons, maybe you don't like someone, you have personal differences, maybe there are external factors, you know you're older than them ,why should you have to respect someone who's younger than you, they're less educated, they make less money, they work for you or they're family members, why should I have to respect my son?
There are many reasons. Some seem quite arbitrary, some seem quite serious. The bottom line is whatever the reason we are told we need to respect those in authority over us, respect those who bear these offices. And the million dollar question is why? Is it because the office bearers wear ties and meet in that room over there? Is it because they've been members of the church for quite awhile, is it because they even just fit the descriptions that we heard about last week in 1 Timothy? Is it because of who they are that they deserve respect? Well no, what are we told here?
It's not really because of who they are, it's because of what they do, because of the work they do. We're to hold the ministers of the word and the elders of the church in special esteem because of the work they do and be at peace with them without grumbling, quarreling or fighting. It's first and foremost why we need to respect the elders, pastors, the deacons.
1 Thessalonians 5 says respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you and Hebrews 13 says obey your leaders and submit to their authority, they keep watch over you as men who must give account.
The work of the officers in the church, beloved, is to care for you, to love you, to shepherd you, most of all to continue to point you to Jesus Christ, to show you the gospel and that work is to be respected. That admonishment is to be followed and heard and certainly there can be disagreements, concerns and questions that can arise and those are to be addressed, but with respect and charity and love.
These are the offices of the church, pastor, elder, deacon. These are servants of Christ, who seek to watch over and guide you because you too are servants of Christ. So beloved, let us thank the Lord for giving us officers. Beloved, pray for your leaders, pray for these officers that He will give them the strength, that He will give them the strength to do His will. Officers, pray for your congregants, pray for your sheep. Pray for these officers that they might be called, that they might see the quality, that they might be respected, and that they might continue to point you to Christ in Him crucified. Amen.
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