The Need for a Divine Commission

Necessity of a Divine Commission for the Ministry of the WordWilhelmus à Brakel,
The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 2, pp. 118-121.

The Necessity of a Divine Commission for the Ministry of the Word

Question: Is a divine commission necessary for the office of minister?

Answer: Socinians and others answer negatively; however, we answer affirmatively.

The need for a divine commission is first of all evident from several clear texts.

(1) “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:19-20). One cannot maintain that this divine commission is intended for the apostles only and thus not for others, for this is a commission pertaining to doctrine and the administration of the sacraments. As long as this labor continues to be performed within the church, there must also be a commission unto this task. We know, however, that these labors must always continue in the church. They were not meant to cease at the conclusion of the apostolic age—which is therefore also true for this commission. Added to this is the promise of the Lord Jesus to remain with His church until the end of the world. This promise could not have pertained to the apostles only, for they would not live that long. It thus pertains to the ministry and its related commission.

(2) This is also evident from Eph 4:11, “And he gave some, apostles … and some, pastors and teachers.” As you can observe, Christ has given pastors and teachers as well as apostles “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). Wherever this ministry functions, ministers will also be sent forth. We also read that “God hath set some in the church, first apostles … thirdly teachers” (1 Cor 12:28). God has therefore appointed ministers as well as apostles. This is likewise expressed in Acts 20:28, where we read, “over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.”

(3) Consider also Rom 10:15, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” It is as much as being stated that no one can or may preach without being sent. One cannot evade the issue here by saying that Paul only referred to his time period, for such a limitation is nowhere to be found. The time frame is immaterial —Vol. 2, Page 119— both then and now, for the matters and their conjunction remain the same in essence. By the manner in which he graduates from one matter to the next, he also shows that no one, either then or now, may preach without a divine commission. Both now and then it is one’s duty to call upon God, which is likewise true for all the other duties which he mentions successively. How can one call upon God without faith, believe without hearing, hear without preaching, and preach without a commission? All the interrelated components precedent to being commissioned are true for all ages. This is therefore true for the last component as well, without which, according to the apostle, the others are rendered null and void.

Secondly, this is also evident from God’s dealings in both the Old and New Testaments.

God called and commissioned the tribe of Levi instead of the firstborn whom, prior to this, the Lord had separated to His service. He chose Aaron and his descendants to minister in the priest’s office. The apostle states concerning this, “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb 5:4). One of the tasks of the priest was to teach, a task which had to be performed as God’s ambassador. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Mal 2:7). Sharp threats are issued to those who run without a divine commission. “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (Jer 23:21). Likewise no one in the New Testament preached without having been divinely commissioned to do so. The apostles present these credentials at the beginning of their letters, and they in turn commissioned others. “And when they had ordained them elders in every church” (Acts 14:23); “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery” (1 Tim 4:14); “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Tim 5:22); “… that thou shouldest … ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). From this we conclude that all who have ever preached were commissioned to do so. Consequently, a divine commission is also now a prerequisite.

Thirdly, ministers are God’s ambassadors.

“For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Mal 2:7); “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). An ambassador cannot do anything but what he is commissioned to do, and he thus speaks on behalf of his Lord.

Objections and Answers

Objection #1: It is everyone’s duty to teach, and he who has been given some abilities is obligated to use them. Everyone must endeavor to prophesy (1 Cor 14:39).

Answer: It is everyone’s duty to do so privately. It does not follow, however, that everyone ought to do so publicly. Even if someone has the ability to govern, may he therefore ascend the throne and rule? The analogy applies here as well.

Objection #2: “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Every believer participated in this, and thus a divine commission is not a prerequisite for the office of the ministry.

Answer: (1) There were also elders, evangelists, and deacons among those dispersed believers, for one as well as the other was dispersed. Among them was also Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8) who had an extraordinary revelation and commission (Acts 8:29) and was also authorized to baptize (vs. 38).

(2) Everyone of these dispersed members declared the Word individually, the one to this person, and the other to another person. They thus did what everyone is called to do privately. There is no mention at all, however, of either the public ministry or the administration of the sacraments.

Objection #3: In 1 Cor 14 it is related how all members of the congregation were permitted to speak. “When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying” (vs. 26). No special commission is therefore needed to preach.

Answer: (1) It can at once be observed that the reference here is to assemblies where the extraordinary unction of the Holy Spirit was present. The apostle here gives direction how everyone ought to conduct himself in the use of these extraordinary gifts. It must be obvious, however, that one may not draw a conclusion from the extraordinary to the ordinary.

(2) The reference is here to prophets who are instructed to speak in an orderly sequence.

(3) In private meetings where there is discussion, everyone may contribute. Thus there is nothing in this text negating the need for a divine commission for ministers.

Objection #4: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things, and ye need not that any man teach you” (1 John 2:20, 27). Hereby it is evident that there is no need for ministers, and consequently there is also no need for ministers to receive a divine commission.

Answer: (1) Did these persons make that much progress without instruction? Of course not, and thus they initially were in need of instruction. This of necessity renders the conclusion invalid.

(2) The apostle does not mean to say that they had now attained absolute perfection as far as knowledge was concerned, being beyond all need for instruction. He rather states that they had been illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and by this light they could discern between truth and error, thereby promoting their own progress. Their enjoyment of the Word and its ministry could thus be a fruitful endeavor.


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