Ministry of the Word

Discussion in 'Church Office' started by zsmcd, Oct 23, 2017.

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  1. zsmcd

    zsmcd Puritan Board Freshman

    Since I have been discerning the call to the ministry a friend of mine recently gave me a copy of "The Elder" by Cornelis Van Dam. The book is a biblical theology of the elder and is really good. I cannot recommend it enough.

    One area that I am still a bit confused on, however, is the role of the teaching Elder as the Minister of the Word. Van Dam seems to argue for the distinction between ruling and teaching Elders mainly from the Old Testament moving to the New, which I found to be pretty convincing. However, I was not sure if this was the typical argument for the position that only ordained Ministers, not ruling Elders, can preach and administer the Sacraments.

    If I understand Van Dam correctly, the OT synagogue had its council of Elders who were charged with keeping watch of the congregation, leading the congregation, and judging cases. Each synagogue, however, also had a Priest/Levite assigned to the synagogue who alone held the responsibility of teaching the congregation in an official capacity, making sacrifices, and blessing the people. Anyone else who tried to do these thing could come under judgment. Van Dam argues that, moving to the NT, we would expect these two distinct types of roles to continue. The office of the ruling elder seems explicit enough, but he also makes an argument that the role of the teaching elder is an extension of the role of the Priest/Levite in the synagogue - teaching the Word, administering the ministry of reconciliation (Gospel and sacraments), and blessing the people.

    Van Dam makes a pretty decent argument. However, is this the way that the reformed church has typically understood the office of the teaching elder? Also, how are we to view this in light of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, the abolishing of the OT priesthood, etc.?

    I am mostly trying to wrap my head around why the teaching elder alone is permitted to ordinarily preach and administer the sacraments, and holds a right to the tithes of the church.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2017
  2. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Simply because he is the one who is ordained to the office of teacher and he is the one ordained to administer the means of grace. The ruling elder is not.

    WCF ch 27
    IV. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospels, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord: neither or which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained.

    The directory for Public Worship:
    Of Publick Reading of the Holy Scriptures.

    READING of the word in the congregation, being part of the publick worship of God, (wherein .i.we; acknowledge our dependence upon him, and subjection to him,) and one mean sanctified by him for the edifying of his people, is to be performed by the pastors and teachers.
  3. zsmcd

    zsmcd Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, I get that, but you just answered my question with my question.

    What is the biblical-systematic rationale behind this distinction between the ruling and teaching elder? Why can't a ruling elder administer the sacraments? In other words, what is the biblical argument for the doctrine of ordination and the ministry of the Word? Is it, as Van Dam says, a continuation of the role of the Priest/Levite in the Synagogue, as the one commissioned by God to publically administer the ministry of reconciliation - whether through the types (sacrifices, etc.) or through the proclamation of the once for all sacrifice of Christ? Or is it something else?
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2017
  4. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I think Van Dam is essentially correct. And it's why in most places the Reformed and Presbyterians had/have clergy, ministers, along with the elders and deacons.

    Eph.4:10-12 is an explication of the gift of Christ to the church. From him in whom is the fullness of grace flow, in descending measure, from extraordinary to ordinary (and continuing) ministers. The Apostles were incredibly endowed, demonstrating the ongoing presence of Christ through the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Prophets and Evangelists were important adjuncts to their service.

    Finally, there were the pastors/teachers, who perpetuate their ministry in ordinary ways. Paul even calls this service "the ministry" in v12. And yes, I believe many modern translations and church-treatments of this passage are in error when they make "work of the ministry" an effect of "equipping the saints."

    The pastor/teachers are the ongoing gift of Christ's ministerial presence to the church for 1) equipping the saints, 2) work of the ministry, 3) edification of the body of Christ. This is the historic position. This office is the stewardship of the mysteries.

    The PCA is one denomination that made a self-conscious decision as part of its formation to view one class of officer--Elder--in two distinct aspects. We're approaching half-a-century of this Presbyterian experiment, and perhaps a study is due as to the practical outworking of it. How has ongoing reflection and efforts at living out and clarifying the theory worked? I'm not passing judgment myself.

    Charles Hodge and JH Thornwell famously debated the question (how many offices?) in the 1800s. Hodge believed--I think he was correct--that the long term result of Elders-only (no ministerial class) would be the clericalization of the Eldership, resulting in a new hard-line between laity and the (new) clergy.

    The genius of Presbyterianism (just the Bible's doctrine of organization), taught Hodge, subverted human tendency toward elitism. It cannot be entirely or perfectly escaped. But at least among the ministers, who are not members of the congregations, those inclined to elitism are balanced by those who refuse the temptation. Meanwhile, the lay Elders are truly part of the membership, raised to office, and should be naturally protective of the congregation's prerogatives over against the possibility of any overweening clergy.

    I still find Hodge persuasive.
  5. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

  6. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    In my "judgment" not good. To invest RE's with TE's duties without the proper calling of God and proper accountability is simply wrong. I have seen this first hand in my denomination (PCA) in that we have RE's, deacons, Ladies, and laity leading the teaching. Yes they use approved material, but what is taught is sometimes outright contra-confessional and we (the laity) have no official recourse in that any complaint goes within the session which most times will agree with the aberrant teaching. Our Pastor may be afraid to address these issues in that the session may get rid of him. I know I would, and I am a rather hard headed take no prisoners type of guy.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2017
  7. zsmcd

    zsmcd Puritan Board Freshman

    Okay, that is helpful. Going to have to think through this some more.
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