Summary of the address given by Prof George M Ophoff at the 25th Anniversary Mass Meeting of all Michigan Protestant Reformed Young People, held in Hudsonville, April 11, 1950. Reported by Mae Byksma.
As you have been informed, my subject is “Following”. But I want to make this subject very definite, which I do by making it read, “Believers as followers of their God-given leaders. I have arranged my material under three points:
Believers as followers of their God-given leaders.
- The fact of it.
- The idea of it.
- The glory of it.
The Lord has given to His people leaders and it is His will that they be followed. The apostle Paul was such a leader in the church, as were all the apostles and the prophets of the Scriptures. In the full awareness of this, Paul over and over admonishes the churches—God’s believing people—to follow him. To the Christian brotherhood in Corinth he wrote, “I exhort you, therefore, become followers of me. . . .” And again in this same epistle to this same church, “Be ye followers of me. . . .” And so also to the church in Philippi. Says the apostle to the saints in this place “Brethren be followers, imitators, of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example” (Phil. 3:17). And the saints of the church in Thessalonica receive praise from Paul for their following him.
Paul, then, was a God-given leader in the church and accordingly exhorts the churches to follow him.
Besides the college of apostle, the apostolic churches possessed still other classes of leaders, given them of God. Paul makes mention of them in Eph. 4:11.
Mention is here made also of pastors and teachers. The office they bore was alone permanent. As long as the earth endureth, the church will be in the possession of pastors and teachers. They, too, are given of Christ to the church for the work of the ministry, and thus for spiritual leadership with the saints as their followers.
Yet it must not be supposed that in following their God-given leaders, the saints follow men. Certainly, what the saints follow is the truth. This is the idea of the thing with which we here have to do.
Paul, to be sure, had clear understanding of this as appears from his words of approval which he directs to Timothy,—these words, “But thou hast closely followed my teaching. . . .” It’s Paul’s teaching that Timothy followed and thus also Paul’s conduct, purpose, faith, love, and endurance. But Paul’s teaching is first. For it is basic to the other graces here mentioned. There can be no right conduct without teaching, no purpose, faith, love and endurance without teaching, doctrine. And by teaching is to be understood, certainly, the truth by which the saints are saved. And the truth is God as revealed in in the face of Christ.
Accordingly, Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians contains also this exhortation, “Be ye therefore followers, imitators, of God as children beloved.” It is God whom the saints must follow, and God only. Christ’s God.
If so, how then could Paul lay it upon the hearts of the saints to follow, imitate
him? How can it be right for the saints to follow leaders who are but mere men, and sinful men at that? There is no conflict here. Paul was a man who by the grace of God was identified with the truth in his thinking, willing, desiring, and in his entire walk of life. And the same is true of every God-given leader in the church. If given and sent of God, he is a man identified with the truth, so that in following him, the saints follow the truth; they imitate God as manifested in the leader through Christ in His Spirit.
And this brings me to the consideration of the glory of this thing. Following the leader identified with the truth is to be following the truth; it is to imitate God. That is the glory of it. I need add nothing to this statement. It is complete as it stands.
People will and do criticize us Protestant Reformed. This can be expected since by the grace of God we as Prot. Ref. with such consistency confess that God’s grace is sovereign. We have repudiated every thought-element in conflict with the truth and fact that God’s grace is sovereign. And I think now of the theory of common grace and of the Heynsian view of the covenant. I think of that conditional theology of Heyns; of his promise-of-God-given-unto-all philosophy. We want nothing of these theories. We learned to know them in the light of the Scriptures for what they are—false doctrine. And for that, of course, we are criticized.
But we should not allow ourselves to be dismayed and confused by all such
prattle. We may suppose that things like this were being said to Timothy, too,—Timothy, the follower of Paul’s doctrine—said to him by the heretics. This is indicated by the way Paul’s counsel to this youthful pastor in the church reads. Read with thought 2 Tim. 3:1-12.
Are we Protestant Reformed followers? Indeed we are. How could it be otherwise if man is so created that he must follow and does follow either God or Satan, the truth or the lie. So it is not a question whether a man is a follower; he is. Every man is, no matter how great a leader he may imagine himself to be. The sole question is whom he follows. There is but one who does not follow, and that One is God. He only leads.
And certainly we do have our leaders, our pastors and teachers. We have our leader. But this, again is not in itself strange, and it will not strike us as strange either, if we only consider that God has increated in man the need of a leader. Accordingly, every man has his spiritual leader who is either God or Satan, the leader identified either with the truth or with the lie. So here, too, it is not a question whether a man has a leader. He has. Every man has. The sole question is who that leader may be.
And, certainly, we repeat the thoughts and ideas of our leaders, pastors and teachers, of our leader; and of every one appointed by the Lord God to lead us. Included are also our parents, of course. We repeat the thoughts, the instructions of our leader. We are nor original. No man is, Not even our human leaders. There is but one who is original, and that One is God. He speaks of Himself the truth. The lie was originated by Satan. God’s believing people repeat what they hear God say; they repeat the truth that God by Christ’s Spirit speaks in them to the salvation of their souls. The very word contained in the Scriptures for “confessing” means to repeat in love the truth by which we are saved, that God through the human leader identified with the truth proclaims and that God by His Spirit speaks in our hearts.
But we do not follow our human leaders blindly and uncritically as our opponents insist we do. There is but one whom we follow uncritically and that One is God. And we follow Paul uncritically and the other apostles. We follow the prophets of the Scriptures uncritically. We follow them all uncritically as believing and knowing that under the impulse and infallible guidance of Christ’s Spirit they spake to us God’s Word. But our pastors and teachers, our leaders or leader among us, we do not follow blindly and uncritically but critically in the sense in which we must be critical of them. We follow our leaders, only because, as enlightened people of God in the right sense doing our own thinking, we discern by His mercy that they, that he, is identified with the truth. Only such leaders do we follow, may we follow and may we want to follow. For we follow not men or a man. By God’s grace we follow the truth; we are imitators of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ. So let us not be confused by the idle prattle of our opponents. Let us know how to answer