Private Men May Not Preach | Willem Apollonius

William Apollonius (1602-1657)
A Consideration of Certain Controversies (1644), pp. 75-83

Question. Whether the exercise of prophecy [i.e. preaching] be a perpetual institution in the Church of God, whereby private men who bear no church office, may, for the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, publicly before the whole body of the church preach the Word of God with all authority in the name of God, and ex­plain and apply it, for instruction, confutation, reprehension, and consolation of the hearers?


Our judgement is that none may publicly, in the church assembly of the faithful, preach the Word of God, in the name of Christ and of God, but he who is sent by a divine cal­ling for that work. As the Protestants demon­strate against the Socinians and Anabaptists from Rom. 10.14-15; Heb. 5.4-5; Acts 13.1-2 & 14.22; Tit. 1.5; 2 Tim. 2.2, and other places and arguments. And from the examples of all those, who either in an extraordinary or ordi­nary manner were sent to preach the Word. Which mission, or sending, consisteth not only in conferring gifts, whereby an ability is given by God, but in conferring a power, whereby is given an authority to preach the Word of God. Which authority is oft-times not conferred on those on whom yet God bestows gifts and ability. For it is by the Word of God denied to women, in whose lips is the Law of God (Prov. 31.26) and a fitness to teach the younger women (Tit. 2.3-4).

It is certain from the Word of God that God enjoins all believers to exhort, comfort, reprove, and edify one another (Heb. 3.13; 1 Thes. 4.18 & 5.14), but it is from the common duty of charity, and the law of nature, that they are thus bound. And therefore the Word which they declare to their neighbors, doth not by the authority of any special office bind to obedience those that hear it, but by virtue of the subject or matter contained in that Word. But the Church’s ministers declare the Word of God as Christ’s Ambassadors, with authority of special of­fice, and power to bind and loose (1 Cor. 4.1-2; 2 Cor. 5.20; John 20.21-22). There is therefore a manifold difference between the charita­tive admonitions of private Christians and the authoritative preaching of God’s ministers.

Differences between Private Evangelism/Admonition and Ordained Ministry.

1. The admonitions of ordinary Christians are to our neighbor privately, and as joined to us by the bond of charity and the law of na­ture. The ministers of churches do publicly preach the Word of God with pastoral charge of souls and God’s authority, to the Church—as a Church—over which God hath made them watchmen and overseers.

2. The minister’s authoritative preaching the Word hath joined with it the ecclesiastical power of binding and loosing sinners, remitting and retaining sins (Mat. 16.18-19; John 20.21-22), which authority is not affixed to the charita­tive admonitions of private Christians.

3. There is not so absolute and strict an obligation on private Christians for that brotherly correction which is performed by them, as the obligation on the pastors of the Church of God for their office of preaching, who may not involve themselves in the affairs of this world, to the end that they may wholly attend upon the of­fice of preaching (2 Tim. 2.4), and who are in a special manner to give an account of the sal­vation of their hearers committed to them (Heb. 13.17; Ezek. 3.18 & 33.18), which do not concern private Christians in the exercise of charitative admonition.

We grant therefore in this cause:

1. That it is a duty enjoined on all believers to speak the Word of God in private to their neighbors, for their mutual edification. And that they are obliged to it from the common duty of charity and the law of nature.

2. That private Christians in an extraordi­nary case, in a church to be erected, or that is decayed and ruined, may sometimes publicly preach the Word of God, for the planting a church, when there are not such as by God’s ordinary call have received from God power to preach the Word. For the positive ritual law of God, gives place to the moral law of God, when necessity requires it.

3. We grant also that private Christians in some special cases, and upon a particular occasion, may sometimes speak the Word of God in public, by a special calling from God: as martyrs are called to a public confession of the faith.

But all this doth not infer that there is an exercise of prophecy [i.e. preaching] constantly and ordinarily to be observed in the Church, whereby the Word should by private Christians in the name of Christ, and with all authority be publicly preached for the edification of the Church. And therefore, we maintain the ne­gative of the question proposed, and deny that there is such an exercise to be perpetually re­tained in the Church of Christ. The reasons on which we ground it, are these:

Reasons Private Men May Not Preach.

1. Because preaching the Word of God, in the name of Christ, with the authority of an Ambassador of God, is joined with the ad­ministration of the Sacraments (Mat. 28.19-20). Yea, and there lies a more excellent uti­lity and eminency of the pastoral office in preaching the Word, than in administration of the Sacraments (1 Cor. 1.17). But the admini­stration of the Sacraments is not to be permit­ted to all indifferently who have those gifts; as the Protestants do solidly demonstrate against the Papists: and therefore, neither the preach­ing of the Word.

2. No man may take this honour to himself, unless he be called of God [Heb. 5.4], and sent to preach his Word in the name of God (Rom. 10.14-15). But all who have the gifts of preaching the Word are not called and sent of God. For those who are sent of God, are sent either by an im­mediate and extraordinary call, or by a mediate call by the Church. But whereas now an ex­traordinary mission or sending is ceased in the Church, those are therefore by the ordinary ecclesiastical call separated to the office of preaching who may lawfully undertake it (1 Tim. 4.14 & 5.22; 2 Tim. 2.2-3).

3. Those duties which are required of all those who publicly preach the Word of God in the name of Christ, are not required of all those Christians that are gifted: as that there lieth on them the pastoral charge of souls, of which they are to give an account to God (Heb. 13.17). That they ought to give themselves wholly to the reading and studying of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4.15-16). That they may not apply themselves to the things of this world (2 Tim. 2.4). That in the name of Christ as his Ambassadors they entreat men to be reconci­led to God (2 Cor. 5. 20). That they are to distri­bute to all and everyone in the house of God their portion of food in due season (Mat. 24.46). That they are authoritatively in the name of Christ to remit and retain sins (John 20.21). Now all these things are not enjoined on all Christians who have received the gifts of the Spirit.

4. Hence also the privileges and promises which are made to pastors, who preach the Word in the name of God, are not given to all believers who are endued with the gifts of the Spirit, as: That they are worthy of double ho­nour (1 Tim. 5.17). That God will by a peculiar and singular assistance of his Spirit be present with them (Mat. 28.2; Luke 21.14-15). And so a prophet’s recompense and reward is distin­guished from the reward of a righteous man (Mat. 10.42). Therefore that labour, duty, and burden, to which these promises are made, is not imposed on all the righteous that are endu­ed with gifts of the Holy Ghost.

We reject therefore the contrary assertion of those:

Who affirm this to be an ordinance perpetual and ordinary in the Church, that a private Christian endued with gifts, either or­dinarily, or upon occasion, being thought fit in the judgement of those to whom it belongs, may (by the Word of God) preach publicly in the church assembly with all authority, though he bear no church office.

But to us it is certain that even under the Old Testament in the Jewish Church, everyone was not ad­mitted to speak publicly in the Synagogues, but that it was the ordinary function of those that are called Scribes and Lawyers (the Le­vites being also for this cause distributed into many places [Josh. 21; 1 Chron. 6]) whereupon they are said to sit on Moses’ chair [Mat. 23.2]. If any were endued with extra­ordinary gifts of prophecy, as the prophets in Israel, this was permitted and enjoined him by the Word of God, publicly to preach in God’s name. When the Prophet Amos was forbidden by the Chief Priest to prophecy at Bethel, he doth not challenge this liberty to the Israelites, that they might publicly preach the Word of God in God’s name in the holy assemblies, but pleads his extraordinary missi­on, whereby he was sent of God to preach this Word (Amos 7.14-15). And so perhaps was it permitted to the sons of the prophets, who were fitted, educated, and set apart for the ecclesiastical ministry (1 Sam. 19.20). 

In the Sy­nagogues, after the reading of Moses and the Prophets was ended, there were exhortations added, which exhortations if at any time oc­casion required, and it so seemed good to the rulers of the Synagogue, in corrupt times espe­cially, it was indeed permitted to some, out of order, to teach and exhort. But they were always such as had testimony of their gifts, and of whom there was a general opinion of their mission extraordinary or ordinary, by reason of the doctrine they preached, and the works they did. Thus, at Nazareth, Christ was per­mitted in the Synagogue to read and explain the writings of the Prophets (Luke 4.16). As one who by reason of his majesty and miracles did everywhere obtain audience, as reverend Be­za here noteth. By which right he taught both in the Temple and everywhere. Wherefore also the ordinary doctors demanded of him, by what authority he did it (Mat. 21.23).

So we find that Paul and Barnabas were allowed (Acts 13.15) publicly to speak and exhort in the Synagogue at Antioch; as being such whose fame was already known to those of Antioch. For they had before this time, for a whole year, preached the Word of God to many there, and brought many to the faith of Christ. And A­gabus who was joined with them, did by an extraordinary gift of prophecy foretell to those of Antioch the famine approaching. Where were also many other prophets and doctors, who preached the Word of God both to Jews and Greeks. See Acts 11.19-28 and 13.1-2, etc. But in the practice of the New Testament, none but prophets by gift and office, either extraordinary or ordinary, were permitted publicly in the assembly of believers to preach the Word of God in Christ’s name, as appeareth 1 Cor. 14.29-31, etc. “The Apostle speaks not of any in the congregati­on promiscuously, but of prophets lawfully cal­led to instruct the Church of God (saith Beza on this place) and therefore they are not to be hearkened to, who from hence gather that any of the assembly may speak in the church, and who reprehend the custom of having only a sermon preached by one.

So also in the practice of the Reformed Belgic Church, according to their synodical canons, none is admitted to the ministry of the Word, but by a lawful calling and due examination of his doctrine and conversation for the time past. “No man (saith the Synod of Middleburgh, Anno 1591, art. 6) shall be promoted to the public preaching of the Word, unless he be an established Minister of the Church, belonging to some certain church. Yet this canon excludeth not the exercises of proposants, which are performed, the doors being shut; nor the offices of those who are sent forth to churches oppressed under persecution.


3 thoughts on “Private Men May Not Preach | Willem Apollonius

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