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Concerning the Ministry of the Church

by Zacharius Ursinus

(author of the Heidelberg Catechism)

Copyright © 1999

Having now seen that this fourth commandment sanctions and authorizes the public worship of God, and so by consequence the ministry of the church, together with the honor and use connected with it, it is necessary that we should here make some remarks in reference to the ministry; and in so doing we shall inquire,

I. What is the ministry of the church?
II. For what has it been instituted?
III. What are the grades of ministers?
IV. What are the duties devolving upon the ministers of the church?
V. To whom should the ministry be committed?


The ecclesiastical ministry is that office which God has instituted in his church to which he has committed the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments according to divine appointment.

The ministry of the church includes, therefore, these two things – the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments


The reasons for which God instituted the ministry of the church are,

1. The glory of God. God will not only be praiesed and called upon by men privately, but also by the public voice of the whole church. "Bless ye God in the congregations" (Psa 68.26).

2. That it may be a means or instrumentality by which men may be converted to God. "He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints," etc.

3. That God might in this way accommodate himself to our weakness and infirmity in teaching men by men.

4. That men might provoke one another by their example to godliness, and to the praise and worship of God." "I will declare thy name unto my brethren" (Psa 22.22).

5. That God may thus show his mercy, in that he commits to the hands of men that great work, the ministry of reconciliation, which the Son of god himself discharged.

6. That the church may be visible in the world, that so the elect may know to what they ought to attach themselves, and that the reprobate may be rendered perfectly inexcusable in that they despise and endeavor to make ineffectual the voice and call which God addresses in their hearing. "But I say, Have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Rom 10.18; see also 2 Cor 2.14-16).


Some ministers are called immediately by God, while others again are called mediately by the church. Prophets and Apostles have been called in the way first mentioned. Prophets were ministers called immediately by God for the purpose of teaching and expounding the doctrine of Moses, and the promises respecting the Messiah; to reprove and do away with the corruptions and errors in the church and state, and to utter predictions respecting the church and the world, having the testimony and assurance that they could not err in the doctrines which they delivered in the name of God. Apostles were ministers called immediately by Christ to publish the doctrine respecting the Messiah already come in the flesh, and to spread it throughout the whole world, having a similar testimony from God that they could not err in doctrine. Ministers called mediately are, 1. Evangelists, who ere assistants to the Apostles, and were sent by them to teach and establish various churches. 2. Bishops, or pastors, are ministers called by the church to teach the word of God and to administer the sacraments in particular churches. 3. Doctors, or teachers, are ministers called by the church to teach in certain churches. 4. Governorsare ministers chosen by the judgment of the church, for the purpose of exercising discipline, and for managing those things necessary for the order and prosperity of the church. 5. Deacons are ministers chosen by the church to take care of the poor, and to attend to the distribution of the alms of the church.


The duties of the ministers of the church include in general, 1. A faithful and correct exposition of the true and uncorrupted doctrine of the law and gospel, so that the church may be able to understand it. 2. A lawful administration of the sacraments, according to devine appointment. 3. To give the church a good example of what constitutes a christians life and godly conversations. "In all things showing thyself a patter of good works" (Tit 2.7). 4. A diligent attention to their flocks. "Thake heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God" (Act 20.28). 5. To give proper respect and submission to the decisions of the church. 6. To see that proper respect and attention be given to the poor.


The Apostle Paul plainly teaches, in his epistles to Timothy and Titus, to whom and to what person the ministry ought to be committed by the church. To sum up the whole in a few words, we may say that the ministry of the church should be committed, 1. To men, and not to women. "I suffer not a woman to teach" (1 Tim 2.12). 2. To such as have a good report of them which are within and without the church. "A bishop must be blameless, have a good report of them which are without, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (1 Tim 3.2, 7). 3. To such as are able to teach, having a proper understanding of the doctrine, and possessed of such gifts as are necessary for its exposition. "A bishop must be apt to teach." "A workman that needeth not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth." "Holding fast the faithful word, as he hath been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (1 Tim 3.2; 2 Tim 2.15; Tit 1.2).

Copyright © 1999

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