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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
 
Title:The Lord's Leaders Are Those Leading!
Text:BC 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Administering God's Blessing
 
Preached:2008-08-17
Added:2009-05-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


BELGIC CONFESSION OF FAITH XXXI

(Reading: 1 Timothy 5:1-25)

 

The Lord’s Leaders Are Those Leading!

 

 

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ...

 

     In Article XXX we confessed as to what must be done in the governing of Christ’s Church.

          There we heard of the way the Lord operates His Church as declared in His Word.

              And it was quite clear there that this was what the Church before the Reformation had not been doing.

 

     Now, we move on to a level below this.

          For we go from considering the ‘what’ to the ‘how’.

              This gets to look at the motives and attitudes that must be in those called to office, and how that’s shown in the way a true church appoints to office.

 

     You see, if you were in a local congregation just before the Reformation biblically changed things, you did not have any involvement in who your minister was.

          In fact, you may well have been a communicant member in good standing for many years but when it came down to who your next pastor was, it was the bishop, together with a higher council in a far away city, who decided.

 

     Well, we don’t have anything like that today, fortunately!

          Or do we?

              What about those rumours you heard once about a man campaigning for himself?

 

     And let’s not forget the women!

          The last denomination I was in there were a number quite openly telling the Synod they ought to be in office.

 

     Mind you, it might have been a bit closer to home.

          Perhaps it was what you heard said negatively about someone in office as there was that push to get rid of him?

              And how about when that minister suddenly accepted that call to another church?

     He hadn’t even been in the congregation he left for three years!

          But he had contacts who managed to get him called to that other church.

 

     Congregation, we know of occasions when not everything has been done “above board.”

          If there were inquiries into how certain elections have taken place, it would not show up the church in a good light.

              And especially some of the leaders of the church!

 

     You see, the church’s leaders ought to be those who are leading.

          That means leading by example!

 

     So when Article XXXI says that “the ministers of God’s Word, the elders, and the deacons ought to be chosen to their respective offices by a lawful election by the Church,” it is done by God’s Word.

          This is what is meant by our first aspect which declares, OFFICERS ARE CHOSEN LAWFULLY.

 

     Turning to the New Testament a relevant passage for us to consider is Acts 6.

          When we think of office bearer elections, though, the choosing of the deacons in Acts 6 is not our first choice is it?

              We usually turn to Acts 1 and the lot falling to Matthias to fill the apostolic gap left by Judas Iscariot.

                   But Acts 6 is more fitting because it is after Pentecost.

         

     When we look at Acts 1 we find verse 26 uses the Old Testament lot to decide which of the two men will fill Judas’ place.

          But in Acts 6 the whole church presents those seven men to the apostles to be deacons and the apostles confirm their choice by praying and laying hands on them.

 

     It is a key aspect that the congregation is involved.

          It’s the body of Christ as a local congregation that are involved in electing to office.

              Even when Titus went throughout Crete appointing elders, it would have been wise men already brought up in the Old Covenant church who became elders.

                   They were respected in the churches there already.

 

     The mandate for OFFICERS BEING CHOSEN LAWFULLY is found in our reading from 1st Timothy 5.

          There in verse 22 the apostle Paul warned Timothy, “Don’t be hasty in the laying on of hands, and don’t share in the sins of others.

              “Keep yourself pure.”

 

     Article XXXI speaks of doing this “in that order which the Word of God teaches.”

          Aside from the actual process, this has to mean it is done spiritually.

              There can be no secular intrusion into the life of the Church.

     This is the principle the churches of the Afscheiding obeyed when in 1834 they separated from the state church because of the Dutch government’s control over church life.

          It was the same biblical principle the Free Church took their stand on in the Scotland of 1843 when they left the state denomination with nothing in their hands but most of the ministers!

    

     Because when secular rulers appoint office bearers in the church and how a church is to be run, then there’s no calling on the name of the Lord.

          That’s using the power of the king or his government.

              And soon enough the calling upon the name of the Lord – that committing the election of office bearers to the Lord in prayer – is gone by the wayside as well!

 

     It was an unhealthy influence already soon after the Reformation.

          You see, because of the association with the Roman Catholic church there were no organs played in churches in Holland.

              But because the organists were paid by the civil authorities it was insisted that the organists should play before and after church services.

                   And, sure enough, the authorities were soon insisting they play in the worship services also!

 

     Together with a proper election by the church, however, there must be that inner call of God also.

          You don’t become an office bearer because enough people like you!

              You become an office bearer because you sincerely believe the Lord has called you.

 

     We should not think, congregation, that we in the church are immune to political machinations.

          If anything, Satan is very busy working within the church to have people in office for the wrong reason.

              Because when un-spiritual men are chosen it won’t be long before the church follows suit!

 

     So an office bearer needs to make sure he is serving because it’s on his heart from the Lord to serve.

          He must discharge all the duties of his office in good conscience.

              But if you’ve got in through manipulation or any dubious means you’re labouring in your own strength.

     There’s no satisfaction or joy in the Lord then.

          In fact, there’s only the most terrible judgment awaiting you then!

 

     There is a name given to the abuse of ecclesiastical position and power.

          It is taken from a man who tried to purchase spiritual power in the early church.

              His name was Simon the Sorcerer, or Simon Magus as he’s historically known.

                   And so that abuse has become called ‘simony’.

     The story about that is in Acts 8.

          And it’s this abuse our Article warns against.

              For “every one must take heed not to intrude himself by improper means, but is bound to wait till it please the God to call him.”

 

     This also means that someone may feel called by the Lord and yet never be called by the Lord!

          That might seem a contradiction in terms.

              But there are those who, while feeling personally called, yet never are called by the church.

     Because the church does not confirm the call.

          And unless she does it is never a true call.

              As the first paragraph of Articles XXXI concludes, then you cannot be certain and assured that it is of the Lord.

 

     So, firstly, OFFICERS ARE CHOSEN LAWFULLY.

          Next Article XXXI confesses that MINISTERS ARE TREATED EQUALLY.

 

     Well, again isn’t this principle at odds with how the church was on the eve of the Reformation.

          There was definitely no equality amongst clergy.

              In fact, it was quite the opposite.

     There was layer on layer on layer.

          The public service now has nothing on how the Church was then.

 

     One theologian defined the biblical principle stated here very clearly.

          He said: “The Church of Jesus Christ knows no hierarchy.

              “No man exercises authority over another and no office is higher than any other office.

                   “For there is only one authority in the Church, namely of the Word, and there is only one head of the Church, namely Jesus Christ.”

 

     And yet it couldn’t have been more different in de Bres’ time.

          Indeed, before John Calvin had clearly pointed out how much the Word was the last thing the clergy of the church were preaching.

              He says in his tract on ‘The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” that Scripture, as we read in the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus, clearly points to pastors and bishops – who are ‘elders’ – as being called to build up the church with sound doctrine.

     No man could be a true pastor of the church if he did not perform the office of teaching.

          Yet, at the time of the Reformation, there was scarcely one in a hundred of the bishops who ever mounted the pulpit in order to teach.

              No wonder!

                   These men had become no different than secular rulers and princes, lording it over the people with privilege and property.

 

     It was what our Lord had warned against in Matthew 20.

          You might remember the scene there.

              The disciples are arguing over who is the greatest.

     In verses 25 till 28 there, Jesus brings them back to the point.

          He says to them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

              “Not so with you.

                   “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

     So when the Session of this church meets, while the minister may be the chairman of Session, he is one among equals.

          His vote counts for no more than anyone else present.

 

     We can extend this to the wider assemblies of the church also.

          For our Presbytery and our Synod is not higher than our Session.

              Those councils are not more important.

     Rather, they are where delegates from our Session come together to discuss matters of common concern.

          For most of the working of a local church there is no interaction with those other councils!

              In fact, in one of our reports to this year’s Synod it shows how neither Presbytery or Synod can actually over-rule a local Session.

 

     It’s interesting that in the original wording of Article XXXI, Guido de Bres wrote at the end of this second paragraph, “And therefore no Church has any authority or dominion over the other, to rule over it.”

 

     The Synod of Antwerp three years later removed these words because they weren’t relevant to where office-bearers are discussed.

          It’s really a sentence about churches.

              Unfortunately these words weren’t inserted elsewhere.

     Our Church Order, though, certainly makes that point.

          Article 95 declares that “no church shall in any way lord it over another church and no office-bearer shall lord it over another office bearer.”

 

     The same goes for Christians in general.

          All Christians stand equally before God.

              All believers are in need of mercy.

     And all have access to the throne of grace.

          There is a universal priesthood of all believers under Christ the only Head of the church.         

 

     And then, in the third place, Article XXXI comes to what under-girds these things.

          For the final paragraph confesses that ELDERS ARE ESTEEMED HIGHLY.

 

     Congregation, it’s our attitude to our office bearers which determines the extent to which their work is a blessing.

          Hebrews 13 is quite clear about this.

              Verse 17 says there, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.

     “They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.

          “Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

 

     You see, if you pray for the office bearers not only do you ask the Lord’s help for them – you also make yourself open for them.

          Then you will receive them gladly when they visit you, you will know you’re blessed through their preaching and teaching, and you will help them to help others.

 

     This is also what read in 1st Timothy 5.

          There it was clear the respect we ought to have for them in verse 17.

              As Paul writes there, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”

                  

     And then verse 18 goes on to tell us that that means through our wallet as well.

          Because you cannot be holding ministers in the highest regard if you don’t support their work in every way possible.

              In fact, it has often been through members not tithing that churches haven’t been able to be blessed in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

 

     Now, we note that it’s ministers and elders who are mentioned here.

          Theirs is the heavier spiritual responsibility before God.

              They are in charge of the administration of the Word and the Sacraments.

                   It’s with them that the discipline within the church ultimately lies.

 

     But the same principle applies to the deacons also.

          In fact, they should be mentioned here.

              For in the Church of Rome they had been reduced to just being helpers at the mass.

                   It was the Reformation which finally gave this office its proper place.

 

     Our Article confesses that the office bearers are to be honoured “for their work’s sake.”

          It is the most important work.

              Isn’t it?

 

     I mean, you think about your attitude towards the worship services and the bible studies.

          You reflect on how seriously you do your devotions every day.

              Are you praying for them?

     Do you thank God for them?

          Have you personally encouraged them?

 

     This is not saying that there aren’t limits to obeying the office-bearers of the church.

          If they are unfaithful and demand what God hasn’t said, they must be rejected.

              If they are lusting after personal prestige, if they are unspiritual elders, and if they are poor deacons, you have to raise your concern.

                   There are proper processes and procedures for that.

 

     The apostle John wrote of such a possibility.

          In verse 10 of his second letter he said, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, don’t take him into your house or welcome him.”

              The teaching is, of course, the gospel.

 

     And that’s what we must always come back to.

          This is not about me.

              It is about He – Christ Jesus – the Head of the Church.

     The office-bearers come in His Name.

          And it’s because of His Name we do everything we possibly can to work with them – not against them!

 

     Sometimes the work of the office-bearers will upset you.

          But is it because of them or because of you?

              Could it be that they’re actually then being faithful to the Lord?

    

     We know this from the apostle Paul.

          He would never have won a popularity poll.

              But he was certainly doing the Lord’s work.

     In Galatians 1 he reminds his readers of this.

          As he declares in verse 10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?

              “Or am I trying to please men?

                   “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

 

     This is why Paul also insisted with Timothy in our reading in verse 19 that any accusation against an elder had to have at least two or three witnesses.

          By their call and commission the church had confirmed their special place.

              Therefore no idle gossip or hearsay or rumour was to be entertained.

         

     And you don’t do you?

          Even if it’s what you want to believe about an office-bearer – true?

 

     We all fall under judgment for this.

          So let’s repent and return to God’s way.

              Amen.

 

 

PRAYER:

Let’s pray…

     Lord, we have again been reminded of the vital importance of elders in the church.

          For they must be Your men, men of faith, men who step aside from all worldly distractions and comforts, to lead us to You.

              How sad and devastating it is when they don’t.

     Church history is littered with sheep lost all across the countryside because their spiritual shepherds abandoned them – in one way or another.

          May our office-bearers always go Your way.

              Because then we all go Your way.

                   In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

 

 

                  

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.rcnz.org.nz

(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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