31
May
2017

The Office of Christ and the Authority of Preaching

There is no event in all the world that you can attend (no matter how expensive or exclusive the tickets are) that compares to the preaching of God’s Word every Sunday. Lectures, sporting events, concerts and plays are like feathers on the scale before the weight of the heralding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Celebrities may spark social movements to build their kingdoms, but they all crumble by the next generation. A walk-off home run or half-court buzzer beater may provide a flash of glory, but it soon fades. In preaching alone do we hear the voice of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, whose kingdom is eternal and whose glory is forever. It is from the pulpit, as men set apart for office speak on his behalf, that we learn from and are instructed by the One in whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been invested.

I want to consider in this article the implications of our confession that Jesus is the Christ for the way we deliver or listen to sermons. We’ll begin with a brief look at two Reformed catechisms that explain this title.

Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 31

Q. Why is he called “Christ” meaning “Anointed”?

A. Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit[1] to be our chief prophet and teacher[2] who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance;[3] our only high priest[4] who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body,[5] and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;[6] and our eternal king[7] who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.[8]

Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 42

Q. Why was our mediator called Christ?

A. Our mediator was called Christ, because he was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure; and so set apart, and fully furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of his church, in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation.

See Q/As 43–45 for an exposition of how Christ executes the offices of prophet, priest, and king.

The Significance of Being Anointed

 

Geerhardus Vos, in volume three of his Reformed Dogmatics, echoes the Reformed confession that the title “Christ,” meaning, “anointed,” is the designation of an office (p. 10). He goes on to expound the twofold significance of this anointing, which you can see succinctly stated in the opening line of the Heidelberg.

First, “he has been ordained by God the Father.” The anointing is a “declarative act” as proof that he is authorized to exercise a certain office. This proof is both for the person himself and for others who are called to submit to his official authority. Christ does not take to himself this threefold office of prophet, priest and king, but is set apart for it by the Father. Jesus as the Christ appears then in the world on behalf of the Father and has received his mission from him.

Second, “[he] has been anointed with the Holy Spirit.” It is an “equipping act” whereby the gifts of the office are granted to the anointed person. Vos notes in particular that it was the human nature of Christ that was equipped by the Holy Spirit for the exercise of his office as Mediator of the covenant. The reason for this was that the human nature was weak and frail because of our sins and accordingly was not able in itself to perform his offices.

The Office of Christ and the Authority of Preaching

Vos goes on to make the point that “sovereignty attaches to every office. … Christ as anointed comes to us in each of His offices with authority, and demands submission” (p. 12). Not only as king, but also as prophet and priest, Christ has total authority over us. “In the realm of truth He is king (John 18:37). He teaches as one who has authority and not as the Pharisees and scribes. For everyone who scorns Him as high priest, no other sacrifice remains.”

So what are the implications for preaching as a man set apart for the office of ministry speaks on behalf of Christ. Vos aptly writes,

As a consequence of His anointing, Christ cannot appear otherwise than with this sense of office, and the office bearers who speak on His behalf may not be satisfied with anything less. They must not preach a Christ who still has to obtain authority but always such a one who has been ordained by the Father and sent into the world (John 10:36; 6:27: ‘Work for the good … which the Son of Man will give you, for God the Father has sealed Him’). Christ does not come as a philosopher who commends or presses His ideas but as the anointed of the Father. And because all preaching is an official task that is performed in his name, it may never depart from these claims. It may not at any cost deny Christ’s sovereignty of office; and where it nevertheless does, it will soon become evident that it has lost its power (p. 12).

There is advice, opinions and philosophers on every corner or in every tweet and status update, but it is only in the assembly of the people of God every Lord’s Day that we are addressed with total and complete sovereignty. And the marvel of it all is that at the heart and core of gospel preaching is a gracious and merciful King, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:6–11).


[1] Luke 3:21–22; 4:14–19 (Isa. 61:1); Heb. 1:9 (Ps. 45:7)

[2] Acts 3:22 (Deut. 18:15)

[3] John 1:18; 15:15

[4] Heb. 7:17 (Ps. 110:4)

[5] Heb. 9:12; 10:11–14

[6] Rom. 8:34; Heb. 9:24

[7]  Matt. 21:5 (Zech. 9:9)

[8]  Matt. 28:18–20; John 10:28; Rev. 12:10–11

You may also like

The Dogmatic Impulse within Scripture
Geerhardus Vos on Christology and Covenant
Geerhardus Vos on Christology and Hermeneutics
Hope: A Sure and Steadfast Anchor of the Soul

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this article. What implication might this have on ordination and the Reformed practice of reserving the reading/preaching of the scriptures to those who hold ministerial office? WLC 156 reads “all are not to be permitted to read the Word publicly to the congregation”. Similarly, WLC 158 — “The Word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.”

    I’ve wondered about the reasoning behind this and it seems there could be a connection between the idea that Christ is speaking authoritatively (in his anointed office) in the reading and preaching of the scriptures and the reservation of this task to those who have been set apart for ministerial office. Any other resources/thoughts you have on this topic would be helpful.

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