"Notes" to the Belgic
Confession - Rev. C. Bouwman
THE OFFICERS OF THE CHURCH
Whereas the focus of Article 30 was that Christ rules His Church by the gifts of office bearers, Article 31 makes a confession concerning how it is that Christ calls individual people to office. Thereafter, Article 31 makes confession concerning the relation between the officebearers.
OFFICEBEARERS RECEIVE THEIR AUTHORITY FROM CHRIST
Having been accused by the
Church at Corinth that he was not qualified to be an apostle, that he was 'double-tongued,'
a pseudo apostle, unreliable, Paul replies by saying, "For the love
of Christ compels us" (2 Corinthians 5:14). To be 'compelled' speaks
of force. It was Christ, in His love for the Church, Who forced Paul into the
office of apostle. See Acts 9 concerning: Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.
Just as Paul was compelled to become an apostle, so brothers in the congregation
are compelled to become office bearers. It is Christ who puts people
in their office. This is also the sentiment expressed in Acts 20:28 where Paul,
in addressing the elders of Ephesus, says, "Therefore take heed to yourselves
and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,
to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with His own blood"
(Acts 20:28). These elders had been acted upon; they had been placed
in their office. It is the Lord who appoints people to an office in His
Church and to this end He uses the congregation.
THE CONGREGATION'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE APPOINTMENT OF OFFICE BEARERS
Guido deBres wrote Article 31 in a particular context. On the one hand he was surrounded by Anabaptists who promoted a rather spiritualistic teaching with regard to the appointment to office. According to them one received a personal revelation from God, perhaps through a dream, to the effect that God called to an office. The person concerned would then insist to the congregation that they had to receive him, on the basis of the call he felt in his heart. In opposition to this subjective and spiritualist approach, deBres confessed in Article 31 that "we believe that ministers, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices ..." There is no room for claiming an office on the basis of private feelings.
On the other hand there were in deBres' day also the Roman Catholics who practised an unscriptural method of obtaining office bearers. Bishops of a particular locality took it upon themselves as their duty to meet together and decide who should be the priest of a given church. DeBres therefore insists that office bearers "ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the Church ..."
That the congregation is to be involved in the calling of brothers to office is something we learn from Scripture. When, after Christ's ascension, a replacement was sought for Judas Iscariot (who had committed suicide), Peter and the other disciples, together with the whole congregation, participated in the procedure of isolating Matthias for the office. We read in Acts 1 the following, "And they (the 120 brethren) prayed .... and they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias.. Andhe was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:24-26). That the congregation was involved was also the case in Acts 6:3-7. Having been instructed by the apostles to select seven men from among them, we read, "And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen ... Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, ... whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them."
Important to note here too is that prayer was very much a part of the election procedure. The fact that the Lord calls people to a particular office in His Church, and uses the congregation as His means for indicating the brother(s) of His choice, makes prayer mandatory for the congregation. The congregation (entire, not just the men!) are to beseech the Lord to show for whom one should vote, are to implore the Lord to indicate who it is that He wishes to use as officebearer in His Church.
That the Lord involves the congregation in the process of indicating the brothers He is pleased to use, is the result of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit on all believers; all believers have received insight and discretion. All should therefore also get involved in the process of appointing brothers in the congregation to serve as office bearers. I too have received the Holy Spirit and therefore it is also for me to get involved. Which brothers do I think satisfy the criteria for office bearers as stipulated in passages of Scripture as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? It is not a question of who I like best, but rather, who can best represent Christ, speak His Word to His people. Having come up with the name of one or more brothers, I submit these to consistory (complete with reason why the brother is suitable). From the list of brothers short listed by Consistory, I prayerfully decide for whom it is that I am to vote.
A brother's subsequent election to office is to be recognised as a gift from God, by both the brother concerned and the congregation at large. One is not called to office due to any inherent gifts he may have, but purely because God calls. The fact that God calls to office demands humility on the part of the called. It also calls for dependence on the Lord that He will give the wisdom required to function in office. Whether or not one feels capable, one is to go forward in faith, trusting in God. Consider the reluctance of Moses to serve as God's ambassador to Pharaoh, and God's words of encouragement to him in Exodus 4:1-17.
AMONG THE OFFICE BEARERS
All office bearers in a given congregation are equal in authority. This equality is rooted in Jesus' words in Matthew 23:1-11. Speaking to the multitudes and the disciples, Jesus said concerning the Scribes and Pharisees, "The scribes and Pharisees…love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the market places, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi." But Jesus' instruction to the disciples is, "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for one is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren" (vs 8) and "he who is greater among you shall be your servant" (vs 11). Christ has not instituted any ranking amongst the offices. Each office bearer is equal to the other (See Figure 1). No one has more authority than another, despite the fact that one office bearer may have more gifts than another. Of him who has more gifts, God also requires more, but that does not make one more important than another. Therefore we also confess with Article 31, "Ministers of the Word, in whatever place they are, have equal power and authority, for they are all servants of Jesus Christ." This leaves no room for the Roman Catholic practice of assigning varying degrees of honour amongst those in the office of bishop, depending (for example) on the size of the congregation or the importance of the city wherein the bishop serves.
According to Article 36 of the Australian Church Order, "In all churches there shall be a consistory composed of the minister(s) of the Word and the elders. It shall meet regularly and be chaired by the minister." However, the fact that the minister is the chairman does not give him any greater authority or power over the elders. He is not to lord it over the elders and tell them what they must do. It is clear too from Article 80 of the Australian Church Order that there is to be equality amongst the office bearers. "No church shall in any way lord it over other churches, no office bearer over other office-bearers."
PREPARATION FOR OFFICE
To desire an office in the Church is commendable. Said Paul to Timothy, "This is a faithful saying, If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work" (1 Timothy 3:1). The term bishop describes the elder, the overseer.
Why does the apostle Paul commend the desire for an office, and consequently preparation for the office too, saying it is a good work? If the Lord has given Christ to us to pay for our sins in order to reconcile us to Himself; if He has given so much, then we in turn are to give ourselves wholly to the service of God wherever it is that God may call us to serve. It should not happen that the consistory finds it difficult to draw up a short list of suitable candidates to fill vacancies in the consistory. It is for all of us to prepare ourselves readily and eagerly for total service to the God who graciously saved us in Jesus Christ, even if it be in the difficult (though beautiful!) task of being office bearer in the Church. All men in the congregation should be preparing themselves for the event that God may call them to the office. Such preparation means to study and know the Scriptures, to cultivate being wise in the Lord, and to be actively involved in congregational life.
It is to the man (as opposed
to the woman) that the Lord has given the position of leadership, and to the
woman (as opposed to the man) the position of being a help to the man. So
the apostle writes that "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have
authority over a man, but to be in silence" (1 Timothy 2:12). This
does not leave the woman without a task when it comes to the matter of preparing
for work as an office bearer. The office bearer needs beside him a help meet,
a wife. To be an office bearer, one needs to be prepared. Here the women should
see it as their role to stand beside their husbands in all of life, and so
also encourage and assist the husband in preparing himself for office.