"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers,..." I Cor 12:28

"And when they had ordained them elders in every church,..." Acts 14:23

The Offices of the Church

For further study:

For a Discussion of the temporary offices: Apostle, prophet and evangelist together with the temporary gifts of special revelations, tongues, miracles of healing and the errors of Pentecostalism, go to:

For a discussion of the offices of minister, elder and deacon the liturgical forms for ordination are also doctrinal statements of the offices, calling, duties of these offices:

See also: Women in Church Office

There are also two special aspects of the office of the ministry that of training ministers and the work of missionaries. They are also addressed in the following forms:

See also:

Our Church-Governed Seminary

The Confession of Faith sets forth the doctrine of the offices in the context of the doctrine of the church in Articles 30-32 While the Heidelberg Catechism treats the calling to exercise church discipline and the keys of the kingdom and the necessity of true conversion in Lord's Days 30-33.

The sections on church discipline and the church order also address the subject of the offices

Gifts and Offices in the Body of Christ

by Rev. Thomas Miersma

The Word of God in the New Testament sets forth a two-fold aspect of one work of Christ, as the head and king of the church, His body,

First, Christ has given and continues to give various gifts of the Spirit to the church as His body. In Romans 12:4 we read, "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us..." The apostle in Romans 12:4 -13 then speaks of prophecy, ministry, giving, ruling, shewing mercy and other activities in the life of the church. In I Corinthians 12 we read, "Now there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." I Corinthians 12:4-6. The apostle then mentions some of these gifts and points out that the one giving them, the Holy Spirit, gives them according to His divine will. "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will," I Corinthians 12:11. The same Word of God explains that these gifts set in the body are exercised by the members of the body and for the welfare of the body of Christ "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all members of that one body being many, are one body: so also is Christ," I Corinthians 12:12.

Secondly, the same Word of God speaks of offices which Christ has set in the body and instituted in the church. "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly pastors and teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues," I Corinthians 12:28. The Word of God sets forth not only gifts but the offices in the church by which those gifts are exercised. There is the office of elder or overseer with its qualifications set down in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. The gift of ruling, Romans 12:8, and of government, I Corinthians 12:28, has also an office in the church by which it is exercised, and that is the office of elder. The word of God sets forth the office of deacon, Acts 6; I Timothy 3:8-13, as well as the gifts of distribution, Romans 12:8. The Word of God sets forth the preaching ministry and the office of pastor-teacher as well as the gifts of instruction, I Corinthians 12: 28; Romans 1014, 15; Ephesians 4:11. It is by the offices set in the church that the gifts are exercised in an orderly manner under the rule of Christ.

Thirdly, to this order belongs an additional element, which is, that those who labor in these offices are called and sent by Christ through the church. They are set "in the church," I Corinthians 12:28. The qualifications are given, I Timothy and Titus, to the church, by whom Christ calls and sends men to the work. It is thus that the deacons were ordained in Acts 6. It is thus that Timothy was called to labor in the ministry of the word, "with the laying on of hands of the presbytery," I Timothy 4:14. It was in this way that Paul and Barnabus were sent to do mission work, Acts 13:1-3. This lawful call by Christ through the church is also important, for the Word of God says, "And how shall they preach except they be sent?" Romans 10:15. That sending is more than the personal, subjective feeling of the individual; it requires an objective call of the church. Those called to office do not operate independently of the body. The function of the office of elder is, in part, to take heed to the labor of other officebearers and to guard the sheep of Christ from false teachers or wolves, Acts 20:28-30. The office of elder is, in fact, central to the life of the church as instituted by Christ. It was only with the ordaining of elders that the mission fields upon which Paul labored became churches. Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5.

By this order, the Word of God guards the church against certain false practices which have crept into the Christian church today and are a departure from the Word of God and the institution of Christ. These errors include:

  • Labeling anything men invent as a "ministry" and multiplying churchless ministries under the supervision of no elders
  • The exercise of gifts apart from the body and apart from the supervision of the offices in the body, as instituted by Christ
  • Churchless, independent, self-appointed, so-called preachers, also under the supervision of no body of elders
  • Self-appointed evangelists and missionaries called and sent by no church and under no supervision
  • Churches that have a pastor with no body of elders and deacons who are not Biblical deacons, caring for the needy in the congregation, but mere trustees of buildings

Indeed, one of the evidences that the modern Christian church, so-called, is out of the way of faith and not walking after Christ, is the tendency to pervert, corrupt, or forsake the offices and institution of the church. This was an aspect of the sin of Jeroboam, who not only set up a false god in the form of golden calves which he called the Lord of Israel, but disposed of the lawful priests and Levites substituting his own invention and false office-bearers, I Kings 12:31. Today so-called pastors are hired as CEOs of mega churches, rather than as genuine pastors. For mark well, the unity of the spiritual gifts and the offices means that the character, labor, and calling of the offices in the church is first of all spiritual in form and substance, not a matter of earthly power, position and form.

There are two other elements which should be noted concerning these offices. The first is that they involve an exercise of Christ's authority as Head over His church as His body and as the spiritual commonwealth of His grace. Those who are called to preach are sent by Christ and equipped by His Spirit as heralds (the New Testament word for preaching) of His word. "Now we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us," II Corinthians 5:20. The elders are to take heed to the flock, "over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers," Acts 20:28. The offices come with the Word of Christ and with authority in His name.

Secondly, there were certain offices which were given temporarily, such as apostle and prophet, for the laying of the foundation of the church in Christ. To these special and temporary offices were also attached special, but also temporary, gifts of the Spirit which likewise would pass away. Thus we read "whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away," I Corinthians 13:8. Certain gifts were necessary for the laying of the foundation and the establishment of the truth that God had fulfilled His word in Christ. They are called "signs of the apostles," and served to confirm the Word preached,
II Corinthians 12:12; Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:4.

The abiding offices in the church are therefore a matter not only of careful study, but also a confessional matter in Reformed faith and practice. This issue can be studied further by the links provided on this page. The Reformed system of church government is presbyterial (or rule by a body of elders) in form. This can also be further studied from the Church Order.