The Pillars of the Church II – The Believer’s Office and the Church

And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” Does the reading of these words from Genesis 1:27 impress you but little? This may be due in part to the fact that you know them so well. As a morning mist obscures the beauty of a hillside landscape, so your familiarity with the words quoted tends to obscure their majesty and meaningfulness.

And yet these words are among the most meaningful ever uttered. For with these words God proclaims not only man’s origin, but also and especially man’s uniqueness!

In Genesis 1:27 God tells us that when he created his highest earthly creature, he made and modeled him after himself!

He who was to serve as God’s victory upon earth is even designated as “the son of God,” in Luke’s genealogy ( Luke 3:38).

Well may we sing in the words of Psalm 8: “For thou hast made him but little lower than God for the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.”

What is the essential uniqueness of man’s being? What is it that distinguishes man from the animals, and that not to some extent, but altogether, absolutely? It is man’s spirituality! God caused the animals to be living creatures. But when God was about to make man. he said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion….” (Genesis 1:26).

God is far more than a living being. He is a Spirit, a Person, a rational, moral, responsible Being. And all that after the mode and measure of God, and not of man; eternally, originally, and infinitely.

Now when God was about to create man, he who was to serve as God’s special representative, he determined that man should be—like himself—a personal being, a being able to think rationally, a being able to will morally, a being able to act responsibly. This not after the measure of God—for then man would have been equal to God—but after the measure of man. To a certain extent, in finite measure, man was to be like God. As God is a Person, a Spirit, so Adam was to be a person, a spirit, a finite, limited reproduction of the eternal, infinite God.

Thus mall in paradise knew God with his intellect, loved God with his heart, and served God with the deeds of his life. This no other earthly creature could do. As a rational, moral, responsible individual, he possessed true knowledge, true holiness, and true righteousness.

Adam in paradise stood beautiful and strong, unsullied and unfettered by sin, ruling over God’s creation intelligently and wisely, with holy devotion, and responsibly in every word and deed. In him the majesty of God’s being, the grandeur of God’s thoughts, the holiness of his heart, and perfection of his ways found their perfect reflection.

Saying all this simply means that man in the state of righteousness was a prophet, priest, and king. A prophet knows and proclaims God’s Word and will. This Adam did. A priest consecrates himself and all of li fe in loving devotion to God. This Adam did. A king rules himself and his whole domain in righteousness according to God’s will. This Adam did.

Man, as God made him and charged him in paradise, therefore, bore a three-fold office. He was God’s prophet, priest, and king. And this not as an after-thought of God. Definitely not. Known to God are all his works from the beginning. God never operates with after-thoughts. The very fact that man was God’s image-bearer, a spirit-being, meant that he was a rational, moral, and responsible being. Which is simply saying that the very fact that man was God’s image-bearer meant that he was God’s prophet, priest, and king.

The Fall and the Office

Comes the question, how did man’s fall in sin affect him as God’s image-bearer? How did it affect the three-fold office with which God had favored him? The essence of God’s image in man is his spirituality. This essence sin did not destroy. Man after sin is still a spiritual being, a person. He continued to be a rational, moral, responsible creature. But all his abilities and activities as God’s image-bearer went in reverse. He became darkened in his understanding, corrupt and unholy of heart and will, and unrighteous in his life. He was no longer God’s prophet, priest, and king, but he became, so to speak, a prophet of Satan’s lie, a priest of sin and unholiness, and a king of unrighteousness.

Man fell as to the totality of his being. Man fell as God’s rational, moral, responsible creature. Sin severed man from God’s light, love, and life.

He who clearly sees these fundamental facts will have no difficulty in also seeing the kind of Saviour man needs. For man needs to be saved as a rational, moral, responsible creature. Man needs to be restored to his prophetic, his priestly, and his kingly office. Consequently the Saviour in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 31—came as our chief Prophet, our only High Priest, and our eternal King.

The very name Christ, as the reader will recall, me.’lIlS the anointed one. Our Lord was anointed—called and qualified—to be our Prophet, Priest, and King, so that he might restore us to the three-fold office which we so shamefully cast aside in paradise, but without which we cannot answer the purpose of our creation and attain to true success and happiness. And the Heidelberg Catechism correctly and significantly answers the question, But why are you called a Christian?, as follows:

Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus a partaker of His anointing, that I may confess His Name, present myself a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to Him, and with a free and good conscience fight against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter reign with Him eternally over all creatures (Answer 32).

Minister, Elder, Deacon

It should be noted in connection with the foregoing that there is a definite relationship between man as God’s image-bearer, man as a rational, moral, and responsible being, and the three offices which we recognize and maintain in the instituted church, our various congregations. I refer to our ministers, elders, and deacons. The ministers represent Christ to his people as the prophet of truth; the elders represent him as king and ruler of his Church; and the deacons exercise Christ’s office of merciful high priest.

These offices are indeed very significant and important. But in our conception and exercise of this these ecclesiastical offices, we should never forget that they by no means cancel the believer’s office! They rather serve and promote the general office of believers. God still calls every believer to function as his prophet, priest, and king. That divine call is inseparably related to man’s very being as God’s image-bearer, to man as a spirit-being. Christ’s coming as our great Prophet, our only High Priest, and our eternal King does not in any way cancel man’s original prophetic, priestly, and kingly mandate and office, but Christ restores his believing people to this threefold office. And the believer’s office is so much a part of his very being that it may be safely said that this three-fold office goes right with the elect into heaven. God’s chosen children will forever be his prophets, priests, and kings. In fact, it is only in heaven, in the sinless dispensation of eternity, that man’s being will fully come to its own, and that we shall be ideal prophets, priests, and kings unto our God.

The foregoing finds abundant substantiation in the Scriptures. “But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness unto his marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). “Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:5b–6). “And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth” (Revelation 5:9, 10).

To the foregoing we may add that the ecclesiastical offices as we now know them here on earth, are special and temporary; but the believer’s office is regular and abiding.


Reformed Theology on the Three-fold Office

It may be said without fear of contradiction that the foregoing facts have been more clearly seen and taught by Reformed scholars than by many others. Not that Reformed theologians have always seen these matters with equal clarity. There has been growth and advancement also regarding the doctrines discussed above. And it must even be admitted that there is still much lack of clarity with many of us regarding the image of God as to its essence and its relationship to the believer’s office, the special ecclesiastical offices, and to Christ’s three-fold office.

The Church of Rome with all its misconceptions has never recognized the believer’s three-fold office. As Dr. H. Bouwman remarks, Rome fails to do justice to the rights of the believers by making the laity completely dependent on the clergy, and by subjecting all domains of life to the Church.1

And although Luther and his followers maintained the priesthood of all believers, it cannot be said that Lutheran leaders professed the believer’s three-fold office and its counterpart, the three-fold office of Christ in the Church. Witness the fact that the elder’s office was never fully established in the Lutheran churches of the Reformation era. The government of the church in Lutheran lands was largely and generally in the hands of the civil government, and that with the approval of the Lutheran clergy.

The Heidelberg Catechism, first published in 1563, as we have noted above, clearly and emphatically teaches the three-fold office of all believers.

The great Reformed scholar of the Netherlands, Gijsbertus Voetius, during the 17th century, distinctly upheld the prerogatives of the believers, maintaining that they possessed the right to teach, to govern, and to judge. Voetius referred in this connection to I Corinthians 11:4, 5; Romans 15:14; and I Thessalonians 5:11, 14.2

Three outstanding Reformed theologians of a former generation, Dr. Abraham Kuyper, Dr. Herman Bavinck, and Dr. Ceerhardus Vos, all clearly saw and taught the three-fold office of all believers.

Vos established the connection between the image of Cod in which man was created, and his prophetic, priestly, and kingly office. And likewise the logical and necessary connection between Christ’s three-fold office and the believer’s three-fold office.3

Kuyper refers to the teachings of Voetius and maintains that the prerogatives of believers which Voetius discusses are inalienable rights, and rights which the believers may not transfer to others, inasmuch as Christ has entrusted these prerogatives to the members of his Church directly.4 The same author gives a fuller and more popular exposition of these matters in his E Voto, Volume I.5 He emphatically upholds the office of all believers and sets forth its significance.

And Bavinck, in his characteristically thorough way, has this to say on the subject before us: “The general office of believers therefore precedes the special office of Elder and Deacon. For to be sure, Christ is in the midst of two or three gathered together in his name, Matthew 18:19,20. He has secured the Holy Spirit for all, which Spirit dwells in the believers as his temple, Acts 2:17; I Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 2:22, etc., so that they being anointed with that Spirit, form a holy, royal priesthood, I Peter 2:5,9; prophets who proclaim the excellencies of God, confess his name, and who know all things, Matthew 8:38; 10:32; I John 2:20,27; priests who present their bodies a living, holy sacrifice, well pleaSing to God, Romans 12:1; I Peter 2:5,9; Hebrews 13:16; Revelations 1:6; 5:10; kings fighting the good fight, conquering sin, the world and death, and who shall one day reign with Christ, Romans 6,12, 13; I Timothy 1,18, 19; Il Timothy 2:12; 4:7; I John 2:13,14; Revelation 1:6; 2:26; 3:21; 20:6; and who therefore bear the name Christians, that is, the anointed ones, Acts 11:26; 26:28; I Peter 4:16. This prophetic, priestly, and royal activity of the believers may be termed the execution of an office. For, speaking generally, it must be said that man does not exist for himself, but for God’s sake. God created man after his image, in order that he should know, love, and glorify him, and should, therefore, serve him as prophet, priest, and king.”6

The very able contemporary Reformed theologian of Amsterdam, Dr. G. C. Berkouwer, while fully maintaining the believer’s three-fold office, and Christ’s three-fold redemptive office as Prophet, Priest, and King, nevertheless criticizes Bavinck and others for some statements and approaches as these are found in their writings.7 To Berkouwer’s mind, Bavinck and others have seen too close a connection between Christ’s three-fold office and man’s creational constitution. He prefers, so he remarks, the soteriological to the anthropological approach.

The present writer fails to feel the force of Berkouwer’s argumentation. As the writer sees matters, the soteriological approach and the anthropological approach do not conflict, but rather complement each other. God saves his people in Christ without in the least canceling man’s creative constitution. God redeems man as his image-bearer, his prophet, priest, and king. I believe that this would be the substance of the reply of Bavinck and others to the objections raised, and that the teachings of Reformed theology on this score should stand. I would grant that the expression “head, heart, and hand” with which Berkouwer has some difficulty—which expression is often used to designate man’s prophetic, priestly, and kingly constitution and office, is open to misunderstanding and objection as far as the word heart is concerned. But even this well-known expression is unobjectionable when rightly understood and employed, and to my mind it need not and should not be discarded.

In the Church

The significance of the fact that all believers are God’s office-bearers, his prophets, priests and kings, should be evident. This significance has much meaning for life in its various areas and spheres. The general office of believers has great significance for the Christian as a member of the civil state, as an active participant in industrial life, as involved in the many phases of social life, as deeply concerned with matters educational and scientific, as a Christian in the midst of the world. How shall he fulfill his all-important three-fold office as a believer in all of these and related areas in which he must live and work and witness?

But, interesting and worthwhile as the effort would be, we would be overstepping the bounds of this article in trying to elaborate the implications of the believer’s office in all of these domains of life. The subject assigned for this contribution concerns the believer’s office in relation to the church. And it is to this specific matter that we now turn.

The term church may refer to the universal Church of Christ, the sum-total of all true believers on earth. It may also refer to a specific denomination, as for example the Methodist Church. And it may refer to a local congregation, as when we speak of the Commerce Street Christian Reformed Church.

The use of the word church in all these instances, and others besides, finds warrant in the Bible itself—if at least one may for the present purpose equate a number of churches found in a certain region, for example Asia Minor, with our present-day denominations.

For us members of the Church of Jesus Christ thought of generally, our common believer’s office has a definite significance. The Word of God spoken by the great prophet Isaiah (Cf. Chapter 43:10, 12, and 44:8), “Ye are my witnesses,” and applied by the Lord to himself for the New Testament era, certainly is applicable to all true believers. All of us as members of his universal body, his Church, may and must be witnesses for him and his truth.

by us as individual believers, and organizationally. We are happy to know that many of our Christian Reformed people are faithful in witnessing for their anointed Lord and his sin-defeating and life-bestowing truth. We are happy to know that some of their numbers have banded together with other believers and have helped to sponsor the printing and distribution of the Bible. through such organizations as the American Bible Society, the Gideons, the American Home Bible League, and like organizations. We rejoice at the fact that a number of our men have been called to positions of leadership in these organizations. In this connection I am also thinking of tract distribution societies, and of publication societies and companies. Our Christian witness is also exercised by Christian labor associations, Christian businessmen’s clubs, and men’s leagues which promote law enforcement and counteract social evils and vice. However, the work of these latter organizations operate in what we usually denominate the industrial and social sphere.

I do not mean to imply that we as Christian Reformed believers have an enviable record on this score. We have not. We have been too inactive, too lukewarm. But I do wish to recognize the bit of faithfulness which has been ours. May we increase our loyalty and more faithfully meet the many opportunities which challenge us.

In the field of Christian mercy we have manifested a greater measure of faithfulness than in some other fields. Our Christian Reformed men and women have taken a leading role in the organization of a number of institutions which are monuments to Christ’s priestly office of mercy functioning through us. In some instances Christian Reformed leaders have almost single-handedly established these institutions. I say this not in the spirit of boastfulness, but as a matter of fairness to our people, now that some evaluation is required of me as to the measure of faithfulness which they have demonstrated regarding the exercise of their prophetic, priestly, and kingly office.

I am thinking in this connection, as the majority of my readers will realize, of such Christian institutions for the disturbed and mentally afflicted as our Pine Rest Christian Association at Grand Rapids, Michigan; our Goffle Hill Sanatorium at Paterson, New Jersey; our Bethesda Sanatorium at Denver, Colorado. Also of Christian homes and schools for handicapped children such as the Children’s Retreat at Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Elim School at Worth, Illinois, and of the Christian rest or convalescent homes which our people have helped to establish in certain centers, as well as of a number of Christian homes for the aged in some of our cities. Although we have by no means exhausted all the possibilities for the expression of Christ’s compassion for those who suffer and bear the afflictions of life, yet we should be thankful for what we, together with other believers, have been permitted to accomplish. May this beautiful work continue and growl And, as we join hands with others in the promotion and maintenance of Christian institutions of mercy, let us not forget that each one of us must individually be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful, and must permit the friendship and compassion of Christ to operate through us.

In the Christian Reformed Church

But what Significance does the general office of believers have for us as members of the instituted church? What meaning does it have for us as members of our various Christian Reformed churches?

I. In the first place, the fact that all of us as true children of God are his prophets, priests, and kings, in principle restored to the high position once occupied by man in the state of rectitude, implies the right (lIl{l the duly of the believers to organize themselves into autonomous local churches.

When I speak of autonomous local churches, I refer to self-governing churches; not to independent churches in the congregationalistic sense of that term.

We believe that it follows from the threefold office of believers, and specifically from the kingly office which is ours, that whenever a group of believers in a certain locality desires to organize itself into a church, they have the intrinsic right to do so. They are not dependent on the consent of the state for permission to organize. Neither are they dependent on the consent of certain ecclesiastical officers; nor even on the consent of certain ecclesiastical gatherings, such as classes or synods. Intrinsically, essentially believers have the right to organize themselves into churches of Jesus Christ. They have his anointing. They have the right to bring to manifestation the body of Christ through proper organization, through the election of office-bearers, and the institution of the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

This has been the position of Reformed believers ever since the days of the Protestant Reformation. This was a self-evident fact to our fathers, so that both the creeds and the Church Order do not even mention the right of believers to organize themselves into churches. This right was understood and assumed, in both the creeds and the Church Order. God in his sovereign grace brings men to conversion and makes them members of the body of Christ, his Church. And believers of each locality have the right and the duty to elect office-bearers, men charged with the welfare and government of the church in that locality. Thus they institute or organize the church.

Saying all this does not mean that in actual practice groups of believers can just organize themselves into churches as they see fit, and then expect our major assemblies to recognize them as autonomous local churches. Not at all. Major assemblies need not recognize as constituent churches groups that had an irregular origin. In actual practice and by prior agreement, only those local churches are recognized as Christian Reformed churches which have been organized with the approval of the classis concerned. But the principle stands. The general believer’s office qualifies believers to organize themselves into churches. They are not dependent, as to the essence of that which is taking place, upon an exterior, authoritative act by the classis. Actually, the classis does not organize a new church, but the believers concerned organize themselves into a new church, even though, to assure regularity, the organization takes place under the direction of a committee or consistory appointed by classis.

We have not always borne these facts in mind. Churches have been organized under the leadership of home missionaries or committees appointed by classes who conducted the work as if the members concerned were minors. They were assigned to what was largely a passive position in the whole procedure. This was contrary to the principles set forth above, and is bound to be detrimental in its general effect. The members of our churches must know that they are responsible before God. They have the gift of the Spirit. They are living members of God’s temple. They, and not only the office-bearers in the organized church, must be active and fruitful.

Let us teach these things with clarity and persistency. And let our practice conform to our teaching.

II. Secondly, the fact that all true Christians are prophets, priests, and kings, implies the right and the duty of believers to judge as to the Church’s doctrinal position and as to its ecclesiastical practices. The members of our churches need not and may not take for granted that everything is always well with the church. One member, in the nature of the case, is much better qualified to pass a responsible judgment on the church’s acts and pronouncements than another. But all members share the anointing of Christ, so that they are prophets, priests, and kings under him. We should never treat God’s believing people as minors who have no voice in matters spiritual and ecclesiastical, but we should bear in mind that John testified regarding the membership of Christ’s church, “And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 John 2:20).

And this, of course, includes the right of protest and appeal. Not only do our members have the right to protest against what they consider to be personal injustices, or to appeal decisions involving them personally, or affecting their personal honor but they have the full right to make use of these avenues regarding any procedure or decision which they consider to be in error. This is true especially when they are convinced that doctrinal errors are involved, and decisions touching the spiritual welfare of God’s Church are at stake. This right of protest and appeal is specifically guaranteed to all our members in Article 31 of the Church Order of Dort.

For example, if at any time a professor at our Calvin College or Seminary should begin to teach unbiblical doctrines, it would surely be the duty of the Board of Trustees to take action. And it would also be the privilege and duty of our consistories, classes and synods to take action, among at the correction of the situation suggested. But not only do we hold that our consistories, classes and synods would have the duty and right to act in such instances; we also hold that every member has the right to initiate action regarding a professor who might be teaching erroneous or false doctrines. Of course, such a believer would have to follow the right procedure. But the right of complaint, the right of protest, the right to initiate action against one teaching false doctrines belongs to every member of the Christian Reformed Church.

And if ever one of our ministers becomes unbiblical in his preaching or teaching, his consistory is obligated to take action. But no church member should ever sit and wait complacently for consistorial action, when the minister of his church becomes, let us say, modernistic in his teaching and preaching. It is the duty of the consistory to act in such instances. But the membership of the church also has solemn rights and duties in such instances. Especially if in the interest of a false peace the office-bearers should neglect to do the things demanded of them. Inasmuch as every believer is God’s prophet, priest, and king, he has tIle responsibility and the right to help guard the church against error and false doctrine. And office-bearers must give a protestant full opportunity to present his case, and endeavor to give him a fair hearing.

III. The believer’s office, as it affects our church membership, in the third place, implies the right of reformation. This right also follows from the believer’s office and his prerogative and duty to weigh in the balance of God’s Word and the accepted standards that which is being taught and done in the church.

Now if in any instance as suggested, complaints and protests do not help, inasmuch as those in authority refuse to take the necessary action against those guilty then ultimately those who stand by the Scriptures and the creeds of the church should repudiate the authority of those office-bearers and assemblies which have become unfaithful. and they should reform, that is, reorganize the church or churches. In other words, those who, under circumstances as suggested, remain faithful to Christ and to the Word of God should repudiate the unfaithful office-bearers and elect office-bearers from among those who are faithful.

The need for reformation may at a given time and in a given instance be rather local and confined, so that only one or but few congregations are involved. But this need may also be general, so that many churches are involved. In extreme cases a whole denomination may be concerned. But whether the departure from God’s Word, the accepted creeds, and the Church Order is confined to one or a few churches or is general in scope, the right of reformation becomes operative in all instances. And this right may be exercised by the believers as individuals, as well as by office-bearers as members of their consistories or as functioning through the major assemblies. In the latter instances whole classes or synods may exercise this Tight of reformation.

This right of reformation has a counterpart or, rather, a complement, namely the right of secession. If a denomination is under control of those who are unfaithful, and if petitions or protests remain unheeded or ineffective, and if attempts at reformation are blocked or unsuccessful, then the true weHare of God’s Church and the spiritual protection of God’s people may require that the faithful withdraw themselves from the corrupt or false church, and establish a new denomination.

Such secession may be not only advisable, but under certain circumstances it becomes mandatory, and a move, as it were, dictated by the Word of God and the believer’s Christian conscience guided by God’s Word and his Spirit.

This right of reformation and secession our fathers exercised in the Netherlands in 1834, when they seceded from the then State Church of Holland, and again in 1886 when others felt compelled to repudiate the authority of the same state-controlled modernistic Hervormde Kerk, and became the Doleerende Kerken—that is, complaining or aggrieved churches.

In modified form and in a limited way this same right of reformation and secession was also exercised when in 1857 the organizers of the Christian Reformed Church left the Reformed Church of America and founded tho denomination which is ours today. When the majority of the pioneer churches which had settled in western Michigan ten years before, and which had conditionally and rather unofficially affiliated themselves with the Reformed Church of America, desired to remain in this denomination, a few of these churches felt persuaded and in conscience bound to break off this relationship, and to return to the original independent position which obtained before they as immigrant churches had joined the denomination referred to above.

I do not mean to say that the motives of all the returning leaders were altogether pure and valid. Are they ever that in the present imperfect dispensation of Christ’s Church? Doubtless some of the men of that day can be justly criticized for some of their attitudes and actions.

But this admission having been made, I would also say, and that with emphasis, that the leaders of a century ago were moved by well-founded and just fears. They felt and maintained that there were tendencies and policies in the denomination with which they had affiliated themselves which did not augur well for their immigrant churches. They feared for themselves and their children as far as the truly Reformed character of the denomination was concerned. For these reasons they severed this relationship and formed their own, independent denomination. In my sincere and humble judgment subsequent history has more than vindicated them.

We may be happy that the right of protest and appeal is not merely guaranteed to our churches and people in our Church Order, but that in the actual life of the churches this right is more than a theoretical and half-forgotten rule.

We should discourage all faultfinding and petty bickering. But we should never discourage those of Our people who have legitimate grievances from voicing such grievances. And we should always be ready to give a fair and full consideration to complaints and protests. Especially so when the scriptural character of our positions is in question. Let us ever encourage our people to exercise their divinely-given rights regarding the maintenance of the Church’s purity in doctrine and life. Let us teach them that it is both their privilege and their duty to help guard the fort against all attacks. It is better to have a few unfounded complaints or protests from time to time than never to have any complaints and protests. A church whose members have lost their sense of duty on this score, and who are no longer aroused to action when neglect becomes common, and false doctrine is tolerated, is on its last stretch as a truly biblical Church of Christ.

And as to the right of reformation, I am happy that we have never denied any sincere fellow-believer this right, as the Roman Catholic Church did in the case of Martin Luther. We disagreed with the position and actions which a few of our number took in the dispute centering around the Rev. Harry Bultema in 1918. We likewise disagreed with the position and actions which a larger number of our people took in connection with the common grace dispute of 1924. But we unhesitatingly would maintain for those who left us the right to seek reformation, although we are convinced that in both these instances those who exercised their right of reformation were in error.

God, grant that the right of reformation may ever be maintained by us with vigor and conviction. He who would curtail the believers in their right of protest and appeal and in their right to reform the Church, would be hindering the believers in the exercise of their God-given, three-fold office as prophet, priest, and king, and would make noneffective the chief instrument by which God means to defend his church against error and abuse, and the very attacks of Satan.

IV. Finally, in the fourth place, the believer’s office implies the right and duty of church members to take an active part in the activities and work of their church.

Consistories may never regard and treat the members of their churches as if they are minors who have nothing to say. Every member of Christ’s Church is a prophet, priest, and king by Christ’s will and decree. And the office-bearers in the church, although ultimately called and appointed by Christ himself, are to be looked upon as organs through which the church functions. As the eyes and can and hands do not exist apart from the godly, so also the special offices in the church do not exist apart from the church. And as Voetius aptly remarked long ago, as the body functions through the eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc. so the church functions through the special offices. Let no office-bearer therefore exalt himself above the church and deny the church members their God-ordained interest, voice and control.

What may our consistories do to keep our membership informed and interested, and to enable it to exercise the general office of all believers regarding the doctrine and life of the churches?

In the first place, our consistories should endeavor to keep our membership fully informed as to its activities which are not strictly confidential. Consistories should publish through church bulletins and other available means all actions and decisions which are of interest to the congregation, and which pertain to its welfare. I fear that some of our consistories have in the past been needlessly too secretive. They have operated too much as secret service committees, forgetting that the business of the consistory is after all the business of the congregation, I am not forgetting or denying the fact that certain matters are in their nature confidential and should be treated as such I am referring to matters which are not confidential. These should be announced. The believer’s office and its proper functioning requires that our members shall be well informed.

Our congregational meetings very definitely fit into the pattern prescribed by the fact that all believers are prophets, priests, and kings. In one direction we have made too much of congregational meetings, seemingly assuming that they are essentially autonomous gatherings, such as they are in independentistic or congregational churches. In the other direction we have made them little more than meetings at which ballots are cast. All discussion would be held to a minimum and questions for information would hardly be considered in place.

Our congregational meetings should definitely be held under the authority and guidance of the consistory. Only those matters should be voted upon which have received prior consideration by the consistory. And these matters should be discussed and voted upon—if a vote is required -in the form of proposals formulated and presented by the consistory. These meetings should not deteriorate into gatherings and occasions at which the members receive opportunity to air all kinds of invalid or even valid grievances. Let those who have grievances appear at a regular consistory meeting and there speak their mind. But for the rest, at our congregational meetings our consistories should seek to inform our membership fully on all matters of interest to the church and its activities. And at these meetings the consistories should endeavor to learn the mind of the congregation regarding various interests, so that the consistory may bear these reactions in mind when decisions must be taken at the consistory meetings.

Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that Reformed church polity and our Church Order require our consistories to acknowledge the congregations regarding many of their decisions. This the consistories are required to do through the medium of certain public announcements. For example, none of our young people are admitted to the Lord’s Table without the approbation or approval of the congregation. For when young people come before the consistory to make profession of their faith, and to request access to the second sacrament, they do not make public profession of faith, and they do not receive the rights of full membership until after the congregation has been notified. These announcements are made not merely as matters of information; their real purpose is to give the church an opportunity to register objections with the consistory against any person concerned, if for any reasons one or more should not be received as members-in-full with all the privileges of membership. Admission to full membership, including especially access to the Lord’s Supper, is not simply the affair of the consistory, but the responsibility of the whole congregation, and unless the consistory has first gained the consent of the church, in the manner indicated, it may not proceed and permit the public profession.

The same rule holds when families or individuals who previously belonged to churches of some other denomination apply for membership with us. I fear that the majority of our consistories ignore the congregation in such instances. Even when people come from non-Reformed denominations, many consistories will simply use their own judgment, and when they accept such applicants simply announce the accomplished fact. But why, if our own young people are admitted only with the approval of the congregation, should strangers coming from non-Reformed churches be admitted without the knowledge and approval of the congregation? The right and duty of approbation on the part of the membership of our churches should be respected in the one instance as well as the other. Members who come to us from denominations with which we maintain full ecclesiastical fellowship are received upon certification and without the approbation of the congregation. This is one of the stipulations implied in such full fellowship. We honor each other’s membership certificates, and accept them as we do certificates coming from our own Christian Reformed churches. But certificates of believers coming from denominations with which we do not maintain full ecclesiastical fellowship are not properly received without a prior conference, and without the approbation of the congregation.

This right of approbation which follows from the general office of all believers is also operative in our churches regarding disciplinary cases.

When a consistory finds it necessary to exercise what we call public censure, certain announcements must be made to the congregation, and without these announcements no consistory can proceed to increase the censure or to excommunicate anyone, no matter how guilty and impenitent he may be (Cf. Church Order, Article 77).

Why must these announcements be made? So that the members may pray for the erring one, and may be able to urge him to repent. But another important reason is this: if anyone judges that the consistory is in error, he may have opportunity to report what he knows of the case to the consistory, in order that this body may alter its course if it concludes that such is required. And thus no one will be disciplined to excommunication without the approval of the body of believers, the local congregation.

There is one more field of endeavor and interest in which the general office of all believers should count a great deal. I refer to the Church’s evangelistic task. Every local church should constitute itself a beacon light in its community. Every church should consider it her privilege and duty to bring the gospel of Christ to those in its community who are not true Christians. And for this purpose it is the ideal that every consistory have a standing committee on evangelism.

Now the consistory members, especially the ministers and elders, have a duty to perform toward those of their own community who are unsaved. But the membership in general also has its responsibility. All of us should be witnesses and examples for Christ. And all of us should be ready to take part in the congregation’s evangelistic program. It is especially the prophetic office of Christ, which every believer shares, which imposes the solemn duty upon him to help rescue the perishing by making known to them the biblical message of sin and salvation from sin. And consistories should be eager to engage the help of all those who are at all qualified to fulfill the beautiful and responsible calling of the Church in this direction.

Regarding this work of evangelism, it is a cause for gratitude that so many of our churches have taken this task to hand during the last few decades. But there is room for improvement and expansion. Let us give ourselves to this work with increased energy and devotion. The forces of sin and darkness are ever active. Let the Church of God and all believers be likewise ever active. The harvest fields were many when Christ was still with us on this earth. They are still many. Let us all be laborers. Saved for service! is a good motto for every believer.

All this would apply to foreign missions with equal force, except for the fact that although the vast majority of us can help to send others, we cannot all go ourselves. But nearly all of us can have some active part in the work of evangelism.

Let us appreciate in this connection the very fine work which Reformed Bible Institutes are doing, especially the full-time three-year-course school in Grand Rapids. May God continue to bless every effort put forth for the training of evangelistic workers.

God grant that we may all grow in the awareness and appreciation of our creational Christ-restored three-fold office. May we exercise this office more actively for the century ahead. May we resist and overcome any tendency or attempt to stifle its voice and to stymie its activity. The Christian Reformed Church must expect endeavors on the part of those who are in error and who cherish false doctrines to make covered or open attacks upon its uncompromising confession of God’s blessed and unalterable truth. We have God’s own Word for this. The forces of darkness will continue to attack the forces of light. The conflict between Christ and the Prince of this world will not cease until the consummation of all things at Christ’s second coming. And the measure of damage which the evil one may succeed in indicting on our stronghold will in part be determined by the measure of sensitivity and activity which the members of our churches will manifest as to their high calling regarding their glorious three-fold office as believers.

1. Dr. H. Bouwman: Gereformeerd Kerkrecht, Kampens, Netherlands, 1928, I, p.332.

2. Cf. Dr. H. Bouwman: Ibid.

3. Dr. Geerhardus Vos: Dogmatick, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1910, 11, pp. 92, 93.

4. Dr. Abraham Kuyper: Encyclopaedie der Heilize, Godgeleerdheid, Kampen, Netherlands, 1908, III, p. 549.

5. Dr. Abraham Kuyper: E. Voto, Kampen, Netherlands, I, pp. 330–336.

6. Dr. Herman Bavinck: Gereformeerde Dogmatick, Kampen, Netherlands, 1918, IV, p. 411.

7. Dr. G.C. Berkouwer: Het Werk van Christus, Kampen, Netherlands, 1953, pp. 73–76.