This article is about the ordination vows, and the author urges ministers to show integrity regarding their vows.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1998. 3 pages.

The Reformed Pastor and His Vows

When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.

Deuteronomy 23:21

Many years ago the writer took his ordination vows in a Presbyterian denomination. One of those vows, still in use today, was: 'Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture?' When the writer took that vow he meant it. And he meant by it a commitment to the Reformed Faith and no one suggested he should mean anything else.

The vows taken at ordination are important to be kept. Certainly, they are eternally important because they were taken before God and were serious promises to him. The failure to keep them would be sin against a holy God. There is another reason why they are important. They concern the Word of God itself. They are concerned with the 'faith which was delivered to all the saints' — that 'faith' for which we are to 'earnestly contend' (Jude 3). It is at this point that there seems to be some confused thinking.

It was taught to me years ago by the late Dr Robert K. Rudolph, a teacher and defender of the Reformed Faith, that there is a statement of doctrine in the Word of God and it is definitely taught in Scripture. We refer to the Doctrines of the Bible as 'doctrines of grace' and as the Reformed Faith. It is our responsibility and privilege to proclaim it, hold to it and defend it.

It is noteworthy to recognise that the confusion today is nothing new. Failure to proclaim the Reformed Faith has been present in the church for a long time. There have been many through the ages who have made the cry, 'We must be relevant to our day!' The Apostle Paul had an answer to this:

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances (traditions), as I delivered them to you.

John Murray who taught for many years at Westminster Seminary faces this issue in his Collected Writings, I, p. 322:

Oftentimes it is pleaded that the Christian message must be adapted to the modern man ... But it is much more true and important to plead that modern man must be adapted to the gospel.

It is not our task, as those who have made vows concerning the Reformed Faith, to preach to please, to draw crowds, to entertain, to accommodate our theology to the people of this day. It is our task to be precise in our teaching of the doctrines of grace. We must teach our people what worship is according to God's Word, and we must forbid anything which the Bible does not allow. We must follow our adopted polity in every church court.

There are many issues facing churches of the Reformed Faith today. There is the issue of the place of women in the ordained offices of the church —something which our Reformed Standards do not allow. There is the issue of subjective experience rather than objective revelation. There is the influence of the 'Madison Avenue' philosophy, which is to do whatever we think is necessary in order to attract more members into the church.

The question which each Pastor must ask himself is: How many of these things have affected my view of the ministry, my preaching? In addition, what is the area of primary importance in my ministry? For the Reformed Pastor the primary area is the theology to which he gave his vows at ordination. His vows were made to the Reformed Faith. And the Reformed Faith is the gospel, any departure from which is a sin against the holy God.

The old affirmations of the Reformed Faith come to every Pastor who takes his vows at ordination: 'Sola Scriptura! Sola Fide! Sola Gratia! Soli Deo Gloria!' How precious it is to believe, know, preach and live such a resounding call! It is true that many will not want to hear it. It is true to say that persecution may come to those who preach the doctrines of grace. It is true that the faithful man will be labelled, isolated by the broad evangelical who desires to cooperate with those who say 'Jesus Saves!' without being concerned as to who this Jesus is, or who does the saving. But those who are true to their ordination vows regarding the Reformed Faith will seek to preach what is consistent with such a statement as this:

Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. Romans 11:36

There is another vow taken by the man of Reformed persuasion. This vow includes the words: 'By the grace of God to adorn the profession of the gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make you overseer'.

This vow concerns itself with the doctrine of sanctification. It is commendable to have a head knowledge of Reformed theology. But it is of equal importance to believe and understand with the heart the Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation) and especially, in our context here, the doctrine of Sanctification.

Sanctification is an element in the Ordo Salutis and it is logically to be placed before glorification itself. Here the writer would recommend to the reader The Practical Implications of Calvinism by A.N. Martin. In it the writer describes how Isaiah's encounter with God (chapter 6) shattered him and brought him to a deep understanding of God.

Certain principles should motivate the preacher to keep his vow to adorn the gospel in his own life:

  1. We need to remember that sanctification is a work of God's free grace. God is the one who enables us to die unto sin and live unto righteousness (Shorter Catechism — Q.35).

  2. Galatians 5:4 commands us to 'crucify the flesh'. Colossians 3:5 uses the word 'mortify'. Lightfoot states it means to carry out the principle of death and kill everything that is not biblical.

  3. The Belgic Confession, Article 24, states: 'Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith. The teaching according to Scripture is very plain: We are justified by faith even before we do good works; we then believe that this true faith will enable us to live a new life, a life of good works that proceed from the good root of faith'.

  4. Sanctification is a grace of God but it is also a duty on our part. Thomas Vincent in his Explanation of the Shorter Catechism points out: 'We can defile ourselves, but we cannot cleanse and renew ourselves. Sanctification is the work of God which is wrought by his Spirit' (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

  5. We are to remember that sanctification is absolutely essential: 'and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord' (Hebrews 12:14). Arthur W. Pink states in his Commentary on Hebrews: 'Unless we are made partakers of the divine nature, unless there be personal devotedness to God, unless there be an earnest striving after conformity to his will, then heaven will never be reached' (p. 998). What a powerful admonition to professing believers!

The writer, who is now retired from the ministry, urges all pastors of Reformed churches to show integrity regarding their ordination vows. It is not biblically ethical to leave out certain doctrines in our preaching and teaching. If a preacher no longer believes them, he should inform the appropriate church court; they must deal with it. To be 'Reformed' is not a matter of convenience. It is a matter of eternal importance once one has taken vows and subscribed to them.

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