Monday, September 27, 2010

Offices of the Church: Apostles, Pastors, Elders and Deacons

In the Great Commission, the apostles were sent out by Christ and given the commands to preach the Good News and to baptize believers (Matthew 28:19). Earlier Christ had commanded that they distribute the Lord's Supper by His example (Luke 22:19). Pastors, like the apostles, are to perform these two particular functions: "to proclaim the gospel and to administer the sacraments." Calvin tells us that pastors are not called to have a figurehead position only, but that they are to work at their assigned tasks, "to instruct the people to true godliness, to administer the sacred mysteries, and to keep and exercise upright discipline." There is an interesting differentiation Calvin makes between apostles and pastors; apostles were to perform for the whole world and pastors are to perform for the flock to which they are assigned.

Just because a pastor is charged for the care of one congregation, it does not prohibit him from assisting another church if he is called upon such as if there is a disturbance within a church or his advice is sought about some obscure matter. But in order to keep peace within the congregations, a pastor should not regularly interfere with a church to which he is not assigned. Calvin's rule about this matter is this, "each person, content with his own limits, should not break over into another man's province." Calvin then highlights Scriptural examples of church leaders assigned by Paul, Barnabas and Titus in the early church.

Scripture interchanges the words "bishops," "presbyters," "pastors," and "ministers." Some functions that some ministers performed as a part of the early church were temporary. These include the ministries of powers, healing, and interpretation. The permanent ministries were government and the care of the poor (which has been given to the deacons). Calvin writes about the government, "Governors were, I believe, elders chosen from the people, who were charged with the censure of morals and the exercise of discipline along with the bishops... Each church, therefore, had from its beginning a senate, chosen from the godly, grave, and holy men, which had jurisdiction over the correcting of faults."

Calvin differentiates between two types of deacons - those who distribute the alms and those who care for the poor themselves. He gets this in part from Romans 12:8, "if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; ...if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully" (Romans 12:8 NIV). The first phrase indicates a role for someone to give/distribute to the poor. The second phrase is showing mercy to the poor and the sick.

Tomorrow's reading: 4.3.10-4.3.16

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