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Monday, April 12, 2010

A Presbyterian Pastor’s Vows

This morning, as I was reflecting on Scripture and praying, I went back through my ordination vows. I do that periodically as a way of remembering what I vowed before God and His people on 11 February 2001. I was struck again with the simplicity & the sagacity of these vows.

1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

Here is the simple notion that I have declared that Holy Scripture is God’s Word, God’s declarative self-revealing to me and all His people. But also that it is His defining, definitive rule to guide, lead, direct, shape and mold me and all His people. I affirmed that, and hold to it even now. What struck me is the placing of this vow. The preacher (me!) has nothing very worthwhile to say, whatsoever, if it is not flowing from God’s own Word. Brooding over this vow drives me to read the Scripture, repeatedly, daily, prayerfully. If I have said I believe this about Scripture, then am I pouring over it, & is it guiding me as a father, an Assistant Scout Master, as President of the local Ministerial Alliance, a Police Chaplain, and as a pastor?
2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?
Though some would baulk at this vow and wonder why we would have it and affirm it, a little thought makes sense. In communion with fathers in the Faith for centuries, I am submitting myself to their wisdom in what the Bible teaches. Or, at least, so I am vowing I will. Therefore, having said “yes” to this vow, I find I am compelled to return to the Confession and Catechisms of this denomination regularly, thinking through how things are stated, why they are stated the way they are, what they are saying, and how it should look in my life and pastorate. And if I come to disagree with the Confession, will I have the integrity to be man enough to face my Presbytery and explain where and why I disagree, ready for the possible consequences? That too is part of my praying reflection.

3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity?
4. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?

Here I am acknowledging myself to be a man under legitimate authority. I’m not going to be a loose canon rolling across the deck of the Ship of the Church, blasting away and doing what is right in my own eyes. Even though I may not be happy with some decisions, as long as those decisions are within the bounds of “the general principles of Biblical polity” and the Confession as containing the “system of doctrine in the Holy Scriptures” and the Bible as the “infallible rule of faith and practice”, will I have the courage to submit myself and follow through? Please God!
5. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?
I find that the first four vows are easier to be honest with. Starting here, I am constrained to reflect more, acknowledge my failings, and seek for grace to help in my time of need. Personal promotion, vanity, financial prosperity, and a host of other creepy-crawly vermin want to slither in and take up residence. But my sole set of reasons for seeking out the “office of holy ministry” most be, now and always, from “love for God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son.” :Search me, O God, and know my ways; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139.23-24)!

 6. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?
Zealous and faithful no matter what! Who is able and fit to fulfill this vocation?! My only response can be: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly…., yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15.10).
7. Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor 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?
I find the logical chain in this vow a help. First as a Christian, then as a minister! If I fail at the first, I surely fail at the next. If I am growing in the first, then even if I fail in the next I have not lost my true and ultimate vocation. My prayer is consistently that whether as a minister or as a man, I will always delight in beautifying in the eyes of my wife, children, neighbors, and parishioners “the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Titus 2.10b).
8. Are you now willing to take the charge of this church, agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call? And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to discharge to it the duties of a pastor?
I sit virtually breathless when thinking over this vow. The weight of the first part is almost too much. To take charge of the welfare, joy, health, and life of this congregation; to do all in my power to help these people whom I love to “grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3.17) seems overwhelming. But the second part of the vow gives me hope, “relying upon God for strength,…”

Reflecting on my ordination vows reminds me I have made some serious promises to God. It helps me to become reoriented to my task, when I have begun to slip down other paths. Being a faithful, honest, Christ-loving, God-fearing, Bible-believing Presbyterian minister is a good thing. My thanks to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! Lord, now, please, give what You command, and command what You will. Amen.


Vows taken from: "The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America", 2006.

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