The Awesome Office

So, you are in the consistory now. Well, congratulations! But first . . .

To anyone else this may be nothing more than personal piffle. But to this day it still becomes increasingly pointed and precious to me as the memory of it remains undimmed.

As children we loved to “play church.” Since then we have observed that youngsters whose parents take them to the theater “play show.” Well, we “played church,” that’s all we knew. A neighborhood shed served well as our sanctuary. Our imaginary organ was all lhat one could ask for. But—to stand on our soapbox makeshift pulpit and preach away at our imaginary congregation—that was really something, nothing less than the pinnacle of achievement and glamor!

So, it was not strange that one day, probably bursting with self-confidence, I should tell my mother: “I want to be a minister.” And would you believe it, she came right back and said: “I wouldn’t dare be a minister.” “Why not?” I wanted to know. “Because,” she told me with far more sense than I gave her any credit for at the time, “because the responsibility is too great.”

Well, my folks had some queer notions like that. They belonged to the old school, and not all of their nine youngsters always agreed with everything they said. I suppose that’s par for the course. Please bear with me then as, even now, by this personal recollection, I would rise up to call them blessed.

“The responsibility is too great.”

To recapture this awareness is what the church needs so sorely in our time. The church is in grave peril because by and large this has become a lost chord, a missing note in Christendom today.

That awesome office! This is the office of those who are charged with the government, the nurture, and the care of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the office of the elders. Of course, this also includes the ministers; for, according to Scripture, they too are elders, teaching elders.

Vertical reference – What someone recently told me about an officer in the e RC was a dubious compliment indeed. The report making the rounds about this man, my informant said, was that his policy is. Now abideth faith, hope, and diplomacy; and the greatest of these is diplomacy.

Of course, Christian diplomacy can be a great asset in the work of an officer in the church; but, when given priority over that which is true and right, then diplomacy becomes a curse.

Elders and deacons (also ministers) have just recently been inducted into their sacred offices. This is a good time for them to search their souls lest they get their priorities confused and fail to set their sights on the awcsome appointment that now is theirs. It is of the utmost importance that they be governed not by the horizontal but by the vertical reference.

Elders controlled by the vertical reference in ruling the church are men of God:

– men who keep their eyes on the Lord, rather than their car to the ground; -men who want nothing of the weak-kneed policy of just go along in order to get along;

– men who refuse to sit on the fence until they see on which side the majority is found, or to first hold up a finger to feel which way the wind is blowing;

– men who resolutely reject the Latin dictum: Vox populi, vox Dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God).

God grant then that every elder (“bishop” or “overseer”) may be or become such as to answer to the requirement spelled out by Paul in writing to Titus: “For the bishop must be . . . holding to the faithful word which is according to the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in the sound doctrine, and to convict the gainsayers” (Tit. 1:7, 9).

Elders who have some knowledge and appreciation of the vertical reference know that theirs is an awesome office. Elders worthy of their position are deeply imbued with the realization that theirs is an office instituted by their Lord, one to which they have been called first of all by the Lord, and one in which they are responsible above all to the Lord.

Such elders are in line with what the Bible teaches about their office. Such elders are the need of the hour. By God’s mercy, may their tribe increase!

Secular climate – The awesomeness of the ruling office in Christ’s church is accentuated by this inescapable predicament: he who occupies it must safeguard and champion all that is sacred in a climate that is woefully secular, a milieu that is hostile to all that is from above. This world, in which the custodian of Christ’s church must serve is not a friend to grace.

In a discussion on the author of “The Hound of Heaven,” a participant once made this observation: “It was the tragedy of Francis Thompson’s life that he never felt at home in this world.” To this another replied: “It is our tragedy that we do.” For custodians of Christ’s church, this word to the wise should be sufficient.

Watchmen on the walls of Zion must constantly strive to make us dissatisfied and homesick in our secular climate. As co-workers with Christ, they must agonize to keep intact the enmity God has put between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. In season and out of season, these custodians of a sacred trust are to strive to do the impossible except for this, with God all things are possible!

By day and by night, these officers in the church are to do all in their God-given power to get us (and by all means, others, too!) to break step with a secular society; to march to a different drumbeat; and to breathe the pure, fresh air of the kingdom of heaven.

To illustrate. I can still see him, glaring at me, angry, defiant, about to divorce his wife with no good cause. “The consistory,” he snarled, “better mind their own business.” Confrontations like that can be expected to increase in this day of quick and easy divorce. Weak-kneed acquiescence and tolerance at such a time must be anathema. Custodians of Christ’s cause and church unwilling to show “profiles in courage” when it comes to a showdown are unworthy of their office. And, it may be added, that by God’s grace our defiant member, bound headlong for a divorce that day, was brought to his senses and his marriage was saved. By God’s infinite mercy the impossible was made possible.

No-fault divorce, abortion on request, pre-marital sex, the Sodom-and-Gomorrah morals of the homosexual, shacking up, situation ethics, the new morality, and the whole brood of debauchery and hanky-panky that Satan has spawned -you know, don’t you that these are all to be tolerated now in respectable society? Well, if you think anything of the kind, with God’s help either change your thinking drastically and immediately or else get out of that awesome office that you are now degrading as a Benedict Arnold or a traitor in the “holy, catholic Church” of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Price of leadership – Dr. Samuel Volbeda, of blessed memory, our professor of practical theology at Calvin Seminary in a bygone day, urged us as would-be leaders in the church to remember that the price of leadership is loneliness.

One veteran pastor in the CRC once went so far as to say in Dutch: “Wees getrouw, maar vertrouw niemand” (Be trustworthy, but don’t trust anybody). Too cynical, you say. Of course. that was too cynical. But obviously the man had learned from bitter experiences that try a man’s soul, that as a leader in Christ’s church we so often must dare to be a Daniel and dare to stand alone.

That the custodians of Christ’s church have faJlen upon evil days calling for the utmost in courage has been said so well by D. Martyn Lloyd Jones in his Studies in The Sermon on the Mount that we quote him here as follows:

“We are living in an age when definitions are at a discount, an age which dislikes thought and hates theology and doctrine and dogma.

“It is an age which is characterized by a love of ease and compromise—‘anything for a quiet life,’ as the expression goes. It is an age of appeasement. That term is no longer popular in a political and international sense, but the mentality that delights in it persists. It is an age that dislikes strong men because, it says, they always cause disturbance. It dislikes a man who knows what he believes and really believes it. It dismisses him as a difficult person who is ‘impossible to get on with’ . . .

“There have been ages in the history of the Church when men were praised because they stood for their principles at all costs. But this is not so today. Such men today are regarded as being difficult, self-assertive, non-cooperative and so on. The man who is now glorified is the man who can be described as being in ‘the middle of the road,’ not at one extreme or the other, a pleasant man, who does not create difficulties and problems because of his views.

“Life, we are told, is sufficiently difficult and involved as it is, without our taking a stand on particular doctrines. That surely is the mentality today, and it is not unfair to say that it is the controlling mentality. It is very natural in a sense, because we have experienced so much trouble, so many problems and disasters.

“It is only natural, also, that people should be ready to turn away from men with principles who know where they stand, and should seek peace and ease. Just cast your minds back to the twenties and the thirties of this century in the political and international spheres and you will see exactly what I am describing. The cry was for tranquillity and ease; and evasion of problems followed naturally and inevitably. Eventually, peace at almost any price, even that involving the humiliation and betrayal of others, became the controlling idea” (Vol. Two, pp. 159, 160. Quoted by permission of the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.).

Elders and ministers as custodians of Christ’s church must indeed be peacemakers, but fie on them if they are willing to settle for a phony peace at the expense of whatever is true and right and holy. “Ja broeders” in the consistory are dead weight or even worse. It is true also in the church that sycophants who, come what may, kowtow to the establishment are a disgrace to their office. Opportunists and unprincipled men who believe the end justifies the means are an abomination to the Lord. The slogan My church, may she ever be right; but, right or wrong, my church! is satanic, and may God be gracious to deliver us from it.

What Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote of the nation, if properly applied, may be said also of the church. We take the liberty of adapting his poetic lines from “A Nation’s Strength” to suit our present purpose:

“Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

“Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.”

Sacred Trust – To be President of the United States or Prime Minister of Canada—what an awesome responsibility that must be! Or to be a jetplane pilot at the controls while flying over the ocean or crossing the Alps with hundreds of preciolls lives aboard! Or to be a surgeon in the midst of a most delicate operation with life hanging by a thread! We marvel at the courage and skill God gives to men to enable them to assume responsibility as great as that.

But, when you and I see those custodians of Christ’s church at worship next Sunday and when they come to our homes on the business of the church, let’s not think for a moment that their responsibility is one whit less. Fact is, it’s even greater. If we fail to remember these our spiritual leaders in constant prayer, we too will surely be called to account if they should fail to meet the test.

Next to His own honor, there is nothing so precious to our Lord as His blood-bought church. An the cattle on a thousand hills and all the treasures and wealth of the whole universe would not have been enough to pay what it cost to redeem lost sinners and make them Christ’s church. Paul was so deeply imbued with that realization as he made clear in what he sought to bind upon the hearts of the elders of Ephesus. This is what we read:

“And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to him the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops [overseers], to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

To come close to home: you elders, the future of the CRC is in jeopardy; and, under God, it’s up to you what’s going to happen. Whether the glory of this church is to be or not to be is in your hands as those who have been appointed to be responsible for it.

No, this does not excuse the rest of us. Every Christian occupies the awesome offices of prophet, priest, and king. Without exception, we too will be called to give account. But you elders are the official custodians responsible for the well-being and future of Christ’s church, and therefore your responsibility surpasses that of others.

That awesome office!—it is one in which Christ calls you to feed, to nurture, to guide, to govern, to discipline, and always to watch over His church.

The responsibility is great enough to make one tremble. But we are praying for you and our God will supply your every need as you carry on and look to Him. To be derelict in this duty is a thought to make one shudder. To be found faithful is a glorious and thrilling contemplation.

Think of what it will mean one day to hear our Lord say: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” What more could you possibly want!