Question and Answer 32 occupies a blessed location in our Heidelberg Catechism. It comes in the middle of a section that is all about our Savior. Q&A 31 asks, “Why is He called Christ, that is, anointed?” Q&A 33 asks, “Why is Christ called the only begotten Son of God?” But between them is Q&A 32: “But why art thou called a Christian?” What a wonderful truth the location of this question and answer expresses. It is hidden in the doctrine of Christ! As such, we may see it as a beautiful picture of our union with Christ: “and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
Q&A 32 expresses the truth of the office of all believers: that by virtue of sharing Christ’s anointing, every believer is a prophet, priest, and king. Do you realize, young person, that you hold office in the kingdom of God? Yes, God has ordained and anointed you with his Spirit to a lofty position in his kingdom. That means you have important work to do. It is the work of that kingdom which Jesus established with his own blood, in which you are a member by regeneration, and in the interests of which kingdom every event in all the history of the world must serve. Yours is a high calling.
At this point, however, there is a grave danger. It is that you might reply in this fashion: “Yes, I see what you mean. Of course I believe there is such a thing as the kingdom of God; that I have some kind of part to play; but really, the idea of me—a fourteen-year-old—being an officebearer in the kingdom is kind of remote stuff. It’s all very well learning this stuff in catechism class (and maybe even in an article in the Beacon Lights), but really, me a prophet, priest, and king!?” It may even be the case that we think about office in the church exclusively in terms of minister, elder, and deacon. That is a mistake and one that these articles are intended to correct.
From time to time we hear our ministers preach on Q&A 32. We will have learned it in catechism class. As covenant youth redeemed in the blood of Christ and with his Spirit dwelling in us, we do begin to function as prophets, priests, and kings in God’s kingdom. But it is my conviction that we need to become a good deal more conscious about this matter. I believe we can too easily regard our calling at this point as something of an optional extra. By this I mean that we can have the idea that we can be good Christians, living a life well-pleasing to God, without consciously living as prophets, priests, and kings. That is a serious mistake, one with grave repercussions for our spiritual lives. If we do not understand our office, we will never function in it properly. May God give us to see the blessed privilege and high calling of our office in his kingdom.
The Idea of Office
Perhaps one reason we find it difficult to think of ourselves as officebearers in the church is because the very idea of office is despised today. One only has to look at society to see evidences of this. We hear that it is well-nigh impossible to teach today due to the absence of classroom discipline in many places. What is this but a despising of the office of teacher? Or what of the obvious disrespect to the office of parent that we regularly witness in public today? Do we not rather too frequently see children, some of them very young, screaming their refusal of parental authority? And what of the highest public office in our land—that of president? Surely I need not draw attention to the constant, daily stream of slander, mockery, and vitriol flowing in that direction.
Behind all this despising of office is sinful opposition to the authority of God. Office is a position in which one holds and exercises authority over others. And since the source of all authority is God, it follows that a despising of office is an attack on the authority of God. This is the meaning of the apostle in Romans 13:1, where he declares that all authority is God’s: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” It is to be feared that this general denigration of office we see around us affects our view of office in the church.
In this connection, we should also draw attention to the widespread and wicked despising of office in that which calls itself church today. The so-called Bible churches are built on the rejection of biblical office. There you have either the exercise of every-man ministry or one-man ministry, namely the pastor. This is not even to mention the widespread and abominable spectacle of women in the special offices. But enough of the abuse and denigration of office. We shall now turn to office as God conceived it.
The first thing we have to say about office is that man was created an officebearer. Adam, as he came forth from the hand of God, was created precisely to be God’s officebearer over his creation. And before we go any further and speak of the work of Adam, we need to pause. Yes, pause. And let it be a lengthy pause. For what an astoundingly unspeakable act of grace! We are always too ready to ask, “What does this mean for me, or for man?” But the question for a Reformed man or woman should be rather, “What does this mean for God?” God had no need of a world or of man. If there had never been a world, God would still have been infinitely happy and blessed in his own triune being. As Jehovah, the I AM THAT I AM, he is unchangeable, never lacking anything. Man, the world, and everything it contains, including all of the countless galaxies, never add anything to God. That God chose to reveal himself to another, namely man, is an act of pure grace.
This is a crucial point to establish, for it expresses a fundamental truth about our relation to God — always and everywhere grace precedes works. And not only so, but grace is always the reason for works. Oh yes, Adam was busy in his office in paradise. Opening his eyes on a new day, Adam went to work as God’s king, ruling and consecrating all things in love to Jehovah. What a wonderfully significant and meaningful job! But Adam’s work was only ever fruit. He never earned anything, never merited anything. If you had said to him, “Adam, you’ve worked so long and hard today that you really deserve to be paid overtime,” he would have looked at you with furrowed brow. Adam would have said, “What in the world are you talking about? The very idea is altogether out of the question. I can never earn anything with God. I am only doing my duty; I can never go beyond it. In all my work God requires me to love him with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength. He created me in his own image so that I could love him and do all this work in love. I love my job as officebearer in God’s kingdom. It’s a delight to me. I don’t need any payment for it. The work is payment enough. For what do I have that I have not received?” With arms outstretched and the palms of his hands open, Adam would have concluded: “Don’t you see, it’s all pure grace!”
That all the works we perform in our office, which is just to say all the good works we do, are only ever fruit is something we must establish, and establish emphatically. About this there must be no confusion or hesitation. Protestant Reformed young person, this principle you must believe and maintain at all costs. And you must do so precisely because this is the principle that has recently been under attack in our churches. A recent synod had to defend this principle against a certain teaching that said our obedience was necessary to gain something more, something extra, namely our experience of fellowship with God. But this simply cannot be the case for two reasons. First, although it is true that we do many good works in our office (as Adam did), those works are only ever the fruit of God’s work in us. Furthermore, it cannot be the case that our obedience is the reason for or gains experience of fellowship with God for the simple reason that, like Adam, functioning in our office with all the works we do in it is experience of fellowship with God. To put it simply, fulfilling our office as a Christian is our life with God; it can never be that which brings us into the possession of something more. For what more can there possibly be than living as God’s friend-servant in the midst of the world?
Having now established the Reformed and biblical principle that our office is all of grace and never anything by which we merit, gain, or receive anything from God, we need to see the only ground or basis of our office. That ground is our union with Christ. Jesus Christ is the officebearer in the kingdom of God. The idea of office is a position of authority to which one is ordained and qualified by God so that one functions as a servant of Jehovah. The Old Testament frequently refers to the promised Messiah as the servant of Jehovah: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:1). See also Matthew 12:18.
As a king, God’s first officebearer failed. Willfully disobeying God by eating the forbidden fruit, Adam turned traitor in God’s kingdom, transferring his allegiance to the devil. Adam remained in office, but no longer as God’s officebearer; he became a prophet, priest, and king of the devil. And now we must pause again. Once again a lengthy pause, for the spectacle is truly dreadful. God’s officebearer and son — bearing his own image — plunged himself and all creation, over which he was king, into ruin. Thus Adam made himself subject to the curse of God, and God cursed all things for his sake (Gen. 3:17). And not the least of the horrors of our first father’s treachery are the consequences for all his children. For we too now bear the image of the devil, whose children we are by nature (John 8:44). And what of our office? With father Adam, we too have become prophets, priests, and kings of the devil. And he is a cruel and hard taskmaster.
But God will not allow the kingdom to be wrested from his control. Christ remains God’s “elect.” He is always at the heart of God’s decree of election. As such, all God’s eternal purpose for creation and history center on him, for “all things were created by [Christ] and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (Col. 1: 16–17). This means the fall, with all its ruinous consequences for our office, was no accident. God was not taken by surprise, wringing his hands pathetically, then picking up the pieces in order to make the best of a bad job. The very idea is blasphemous! Rather, it was always God’s purpose that the first Adam make way for the last Adam; that the original officebearer function as a type of the true officebearer (Christ); and that in Christ our office be restored, and not only restored but raised to a higher level than could ever have been possible in Adam. For the first man is of the earth, earthy; but the second man is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:47). In him, our office is redeemed and will one day soon be perfected in the heavenly kingdom.
This is the glorious gospel of the kingdom—not the miserable earthly kingdom of the cultural mandate of common grace so proudly proclaimed in local Reformed colleges, but the triumphant proclamation of God’s officebearer, who as prophet, priest, and king exercises his office in the redemption of the creation with the elect at its center. Thus does the apostle John speak of him as “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5–6). Do you see it, young person? This is why you are called a “Christian.” It is exactly the answer of the thirty-second question and answer of our Heidelberg Catechism.
What an amazing privilege is yours—to hold office in God’s glorious kingdom! What lengths has not Christ gone to to make you kings and priests unto God! It is the price of his own blood. How can we not then serve God with all our hearts!?
(to be continued)
Originally published in September 2019 Vol 78 No 9