One of the best ways to get out of unconscious echo chambers is to read something written a long time ago – and I do not mean last year. It can be humbling and uplifting to see the wisdom and faithfulness of Christians who lived centuries ago.
The English Reformation (mid to late 1500s) produced a very rich biblical theology. Out of this biblical theology, the English reformers developed a new ordination service for presbyters. A key part of this service is an exhortation addressed to the men about to be ordained, as the whole congregation listens in.
I have reproduced the whole exhortation below, gently editing it by modernizing some of the language. By the way, this exhortation remains unchanged in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Probably no elder/presbyter reading this had this exhortation read at their ordination, but I think all Bible people, ordained or not, will find it an interesting and helpful way to think about what the Lord has called a presbyter/elder to be and do to the glory of God.
You have heard, brothers, in your private examination, in the earlier exhortation which was made to you, and in the holy lessons taken out of the gospel and the writings of the apostles, of what dignity and of how great importance this office is that you are called to. And now again we exhort you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you have in remembrance into how high a dignity and to how weighty an office and charge you are called – that is to say, to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to forewarn, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for His children who are in the midst of this wicked world, that they may be saved through Christ forever.
Have always therefore printed in your remembrance how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which He bought with His death, and for whom He shed His blood. The church and congregation whom you must serve is His spouse and His body. And if it shall happen that the same church, or any member thereof, do take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault and also the horrible punishment that will ensue.
Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of your ministry towards the children of God, towards the spouse and body of Christ, and see that you never cease you labour, your care and diligence, until you have done all that lies within you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion or for viciousness in life.
Forasmuch then as your office is both of so great excellency and of so great difficulty, you see with how great care and study you ought to apply yourselves, as well that you may show yourselves dutiful and thankful unto that Lord who has placed you in so high a dignity, as also to beware that neither you yourselves offend, nor be the occasion that others offend. The power of your mind and will is not sufficient, for that will and ability is given of God alone. Therefore you ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit.
And seeing that you cannot by any means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same, consider how studious you ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing your life and of those who especially pertaining unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures; and for this selfsame cause, how you ought to forsake and set aside (as many as you may) all worldly cares and studies.
We have good hope that you have well weighed and pondered these things with yourselves long before this time, and that you have clearly determined, by God’s grace, to give yourselves wholly to this office, whereunto it has pleased God to call you – so that, as much as lies within you, you will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way, and that you will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Spirit, that, by daily reading and weighing of the Scriptures, you may grow riper and stronger in your ministry, and that you may so endeavour yourselves, from time to time to sanctify the lives of you and yours, and to fashion them after the rule and doctrine of Christ, that you may be wholesome and godly patterns for the people to follow.
And now, that this congregation of Christ here assembled may also understand your minds and wills in these things, and that this your promise may the more move you to your duties, you shall answer plainly to these things which we, in the name of God and of His church, shall demand of you touching the same.
At this point, a series of questions are posed to the ordinands which they are to publicly answer by affirming the truth and/or promising that they will do, as the case may be.
Here are five things that I’d like to note regarding the exhortation:
First, this is not a “cheap grace” exhortation. There is a clear reminder to the minister of his need for God’s grace, but also of the possibility that he may fall into serious sin, so there is a warning of God’s judgment.
Second, the minister is reminded that the church, and all true Christians, belong to Christ alone.
Third, the minister is to remember the end, or “telos” of ministry. God has a final destiny in mind for each of His children, and for His church. The minister is to be “pulled along” by this final destiny. The Lord wants His children to grow and His church to grow.
Fourth, the minister is to be a “messenger, watchman, and steward of the Lord”, so they are to be saturated with the Bible, namely the gospel and the whole counsel of God. This is to form their personal lives, their family, and the church they serve in.
Fifth, the minister’s job is completely impossible – so they need the strength and help of the Holy Spirit.