The teachers we commission today have at some point been recommended by the Education Committee and agreed on by the Consistory.* They affirm the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession , Heidelberg Catechism , and the Canons of the Synod of Dort [1618/19]), and will teach consistent with these summaries of biblical teaching.
At Seventh we endeavor to strike a balanced scriptural approach to the teaching ministry of the church, avoiding the chaotic and the censorious. Regarding the pastoral office, we support the specific stipulations (ordination) and prohibitions (closed to sisters in Christ) of Scripture, but we reject the fear that would have us go beyond Scripture in limiting who may teach informally. We uphold instead the distinctiveness of the pastoral office and the ministry of Christ’s body, preventing our talk of “the Domini” from becoming a form of clericalism contradicting both Scripture and our history.
The Biblical Evidence
Scripture clearly envisions believers other than ministers teaching.
First, we note the difference the new covenant has made (Jer. 31:31-34). No longer do the people of God wait for word from a human prophet, or hang upon the ministrations of a human priest (Heb. 8). The law of God is written on the hearts and embraced by all those who trust the Messiah. Believers “know the Lord” for themselves.
Second, we discern that ministers of the new covenant differ from prophets and priests of the old covenant. While ministers preach formally, they proclaim an already-accomplished gospel. Their goal is not to keep the teaching to themselves, but to equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).
Third, we note that Elders are to be “apt [or given] to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9). The teaching need not be formal, but they are to teach all the same.
Fourth, we discern in Scripture that while men are largely taught by the male officeholders (typically ministers and elders), there is room for the educational example of brothers (Tit. 2:1–2, 7–8). Although women are, in terms of their gender, unrepresented among the leadership, it is expected that older women will “teach what is good” to younger women (Tit. 2:3-5). While the bent of the teaching may be more practical, the practical is not divorced from the theological (note, Paul writes of women prophesying [1 Cor. 11:5]). In this female teaching, age is not the important factor. What’s essential is knowledge and experience of God issuing in godly wisdom for life. Where those are present, the sister can and ought to teach in her delegated sphere.
Elders, non-ordained brothers, and mature sisters are not to compete with or to undermine the formal teaching ministry of those ordained, but they are valuable in supplementing it. Such teachers grant the formal teaching ministry of the church its legs, and can cause it to run far and wide.
The Theological Implications
Any group in the church may ask for a minister to teach, but it is mistaken, impractical, and a hindrance to the development of gifts in the church to insist that he must either teach or be present to answer the questions.
First, to play safer than Scripture typically backfires. We not only stifle the use of the gifts God has given to his church, we give opportunity for criticism to those who oppose our views on the question of who may be ordained.
Second, the denial constitutes a throwback to pre-Reformation times in which priests chained the Bibles to the lecturn so that the people could not interpret it for themselves. In protest, the Protestant Reformers translated the Bible and put it in the hands of everyone they could. While it’s true to say that the right to privately interpret Scripture can be abused, we are not to jettison the right on that account.
Third, the minister’s preaching and teaching involves training up others to teach. He expounds Scripture not only to teach a given passage, but to train congregants in how they are to study and to teach Scripture. In particular, a minister is not best placed to apply the word to sisters in Christ in personal and intimate settings.
Fourth, if lay teachers don’t know all the answers they must do what ministers themselves do: Go away, study the answer, and come back with it the next time!
We don’t expect all our teaching materials to come from ordained ministers. We shouldn’t expect all our teachers to come from their ranks either. Instead, we use the Consistory-agreed teachers, pray for them, attend their classes where possible, and encourage them. We also inquire of the Lord whether we, too, have the gifting and passion to teach. May God bless this season those who do!
* Originally published on September 8, 2013 as a bulletin insert at Seventh Reformed Church (www.7thref.org) for the commissioning of the teachers for 2013/2014.