A Gathering Voices Post by Don McKim
One of the joys of a theological library is that while it is helpful when one is working on a sustained project or theological question, it is also possible to browse. We browse over books and also within books. Like the Bible itself, when one opens a book and looks through its pages, any unexpected treasure may emerge. A new thought, angle of vision, way of expression may pop off the page and open fresh avenues of thought and nurture.
A few months ago, I sang the praises of the one volume, abridged edition of the nineteenth-century Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck’s, Reformed Dogmatics (http://blog.thethoughtfulchristian.com/2011/10/the-life-of-god-in-us.html; Baker Academic, 2011). This morning a little treasure hit me as I opened the book. It may not seem profound, but it is important for our lives and ministries.
In his section of the new community created by the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ—the church, Bavinck discusses the Offices and Assemblies of the Church (pgs. 631-642). In the describing the power to teach and Christ as Prophet, Bavinck notes: “Christ is the Chief Prophet, but he regularly employs people as his organs, not only office-bearers in the strict sense, but all believers, everyone of them according to the grace given to them” (633). This reminds us all of our responsibility to share the truth of the Gospel with others.
The statement that hit me was: “All Word application—official or otherwise is a feeding of the flock of Christ the Good Shepherd” (633).
It struck me from this that we are feeding the flock of Christ, the church, whenever we seek to apply the Word. Whenever we seek to bring the Word of God as the gospel to bear on any question, issue, situation, or however we are involved in spreading the Word—this is a way in which we are feeding the flock of Christ.
For those who “officially” preach or teach through the church, this is a commonplace. We know, as we think of it that this work of feeding the flock through the Word is what we are about as ministers. In Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) parlance, “ministers” are “teaching elders.” This is primary.
But Bavinck’s word here also opens the doors to the full church as those who are involved in feeding the flock as they—in whatever ways—make “Word application.” Conversations with friends, letters or emails we write, classes we teach, a word of comfort given—all these are expressions of applying the Word of God to life, to humans, to human need. In this way, all of us are feeding the flock of Christ.
Luther and the Protestant Reformation talked about the “priesthood of all believers.” This meant a lot in terms of the opportunity for all Christians to go directly to God, through Christ—and not through human intermediaries—in confessing sins and prayer. But part of our “priesthood” as believers is also to assume the “prophetic” function as well—to spread the Word by applying the Word in any way we can.
Protestants strongly believe in the power of the Word, in all its forms—to do what God desires; and to do what we ourselves could never do, left on our own. Our “word” has no “power,” except as it witnesses and conveys the “Word”—Jesus Christ as we know him in Scripture. As we share the good news of the gospel of Christ, in word and deed, we “apply” the Word. By the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word has the power to meet needs and do what God wills. We spread the Word, apply the Word—and leave any “results” up to God. Our commission is to apply the Word; and let God’s Spirit in Christ, do all else.
This is a tremendous comfort for us; but also a tremendous challenge. We are not in the “results department”—praise God! We are in the “distribution” side of things, seeking every and all opportunities to preach, teach, share the Word—to make a “Word application”—in whatever ways we can. Our comfort is that we can share the Word with abandon—trusting God to do all else.
Our challenge is to be as vigorous as we can be in making the “Word application”—explicitly and implicitly—in all forms of ministry. If being an “organ” of Christ is the general calling of all Christians and the specific calling of some, then sharing the Word is our mission, in all we do.
So we take heart that “all Word application—official or otherwise—is a feeding of the flock of Christ the Good Shepherd.” Jesus Christ enables us to share in the work he does: to feed the flock. How amazing! Our efforts are enabled by Christ and by the Spirit. We share in the commission given to Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17).