Article 4 — Bound to a church
No one shall serve in the ministry unless he is bound to a certain church.
Even ‘historically’ Article 4 follows the preceding one. Originally it was inserted into the Church Order with the aim to stop the practice of the so-called ‘loose ministers’. These were people who claimed to be on a level with the apostles and evangelists. They went from one place to another and preached wherever they could. However, this practice ceased once the Dutch Reformed churches came into being.
Meanwhile this article contains a principle of great significance. It is again of a confessional character.
The Church of Rome claims: Wherever the priest is, there is the church. Other churches state: Every minister is a minister of the whole of the national church.
Our Church Order, however, takes the Scriptural stand. Holy Scripture presents to us “the angels of the seven churches”, “the angel of the church in
Ephesus”, “the angel of the church in Smyrna”, etcetera (Revelation 1: 20; 2: 1, 8, 12, 18; 3: 1, 7, 14).
This article, then, indicates the significant position of the local church.
Certainly, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a catholic and universal church. It is spread and dispersed over the entire world (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 27).
All and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it, maintaining the unity of the Church. They must submit themselves to its instruction and discipline.
This means that they have
to join this assembly wherever God has established it. (Article 28).
Well, this “congregation” and “this instruction and discipline” is to be found in the local church!
Consequently, as for the ministers of the Word, they have to preach the said instruction or doctrine, and administer the just mentioned discipline in a local church, ‘their’ church. They must be bound to a certain congregation.
Are they allowed to preach in their sister-churches? Article 10 will make it clear that this can happen only at the invitation and with the permission of the consistories concerned.
We, as Reformed churches, do not have any ‘ministers-in-general-service’.
This function has been created by churches that cannot or can no longer be called ‘Reformed’ because they are taking the above mentioned course of the Church of Rome.
Even professors at the theological college or university of our sister-churches in Canada and The Netherlands are not ‘ministers-in-general-service’, but are and remain ministers of a local church, having been set apart for the training of students in the ministry of the Word.
Concerning our missionaries the same things, mutatis mutandis, can be said.
This simple article, then, contains a fundamental principle of our Reformed church government!