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Ambassadors of the Heavenly King

Gregory E. Reynolds

Among the uncertainties of modern life, and my own very mortal life, one certitude is stronger than ever in my understanding—I am a preacher of the Word of God, an ambassador of my heavenly King Jesus Christ. He has called me to this task. This is true of every minister of the Word.

I remember once fearing that holding a three-office view of church government would be thought by others to be a kind of self-promoting elitism. And it is true that many think this, partly through misunderstanding what Scripture teaches on the subject, and partly through having encountered men who use the view to advance such elitism. So with the three-office view of evangelism taught in the two articles: "Evangelism and the Church" by Charles Dennison, and "Evangelistic Responsibility" by T. David Gordon.[1] At worst this view might be unfairly characterized as discouraging or even opposing evangelism. While a fair reading would never allow such a conclusion, it might appear that at least the regular church member is being told never to communicate the gospel to anyone—let the preacher do it. However, as I understand and embrace the essential position of these two articles, I think it does two valuable things: it protects Christians from unnecessary guilt, and it protects the message from possible corruption.

The egalitarian instinct of our culture often inhibits clear thinking on these subjects. Everyone wants to be an American idol. Well, not everyone. But the idea is out there that the preacher who believes that he alone should lead public worship and publicly announce the good news of the Lamb's kingdom is hogging center stage, as a kind of "one-man show." The commonly used metaphor in this criticism is revealing. Worship is seen as just another form of entertainment. In a democracy everyone ought to get a crack at performing. This is what is normally meant by participating. Biblically participation, however, is not achieved by leveling every distinction, especially that of office. We should remember this when it comes to considering whose responsibility it is to evangelize, and how everyone may truly participate without being the actual messenger. It takes many hands to run a successful embassy, but the ambassador is tasked with knowing and publicly articulating the message of the Great King.

So rather than defend the office against the charge of elitism, let me set forth, not the privileges of the office—and there are many—but the central duty. This, not center stage, constrains the true ambassador, as Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

What is often overlooked in this passage is that it is written to the church in Corinth, implying that the message of the embassy must be first known well there before it can be declared to the world. This is one reason why we Reformed ambassadors are intent on preaching Christ in every sermon—Emmaus road style. This is also the reason that many churches are incorporating a public confession of sin and a declaration of pardon in their liturgies. Each Lord's Day I have the solemn duty—and it is a glorious privilege—of announcing the pardon of sinners to my congregation; of assuring them that Jesus Christ is an all-sufficient Savior from sin and death. Here, I believe, I am doing the work of an evangelist, even as Paul enjoined Timothy, "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Tim. 4:5).

The Lord's Supper, in turn, seals that assurance as it seals the ministry of the Word, making every worship service thoroughly evangelistic in the best and broadest biblical sense of the word. Unlike the mass evangelistic methodology that permeates much of evangelicalism, this broader understanding of evangelism edifies the saints, who always need the assurance of the gospel, and calls unbelieving sinners who may be present to repent and believe that gospel. I believe that this is what Paul was calling Timothy to. Declaring the amnesty offered by heaven through the office of the mediator King Jesus is always the main business of the preacher as he addresses the church and the world. "But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you" (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

How would outsiders come in to the church's worship unless they had been invited? Here is a way in which any member may assist in the work of evangelism. My experience in three decades of ministry in the OPC is that promotion of every-member evangelism tends to leave most church members feeling guilty that they are failing to fulfill a duty that Scripture requires. But, as Dennison and Gordon demonstrate, no such duty exists. However, in the general office of believer, supporting the evangelistic ministry of the embassy is a duty that they may fulfill in a variety of ways. Surely, prayer for sinners to be saved through the messages preached each week by the minister of the Word is one important way. Those who have opportunity may invite neighbors, family, and friends to worship. The session of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church has developed special invitation cards for members to hand out. We have also on occasion distributed invitations in our neighborhoods.

There are those—perhaps a majority in our present culture—who will never, for a variety of reasons, visit a church service. Here the ambassador should consider ways of finding a hearing outside the embassy's walls. One way we at Amoskeag have found somewhat fruitful is for me to offer to conduct a Bible study explaining the gospel in the homes of members. The host invites neighbors, family, and friends to a one hour study each week for between two and four weeks. The invitation promises light refreshments, punctuality, and no pressure to say or do anything. But the ambassador also offers to stay after the presentation ends to answer any questions the guests may have. Those who come are usually eager to ask questions, but those who wish may leave when the study is over. Meanwhile congregation members, who have signed up, will be praying during that hour for the Lord's blessing on the meeting.

When sessions take part in the regular visitation of the congregation, preachers are freer to engage in this sort of outreach. I have found that writing evangelistic tracts, as one local ambassador, lends a personal note to our evangelistic efforts as an embassy. Every member may give a word from their pastor to a friend or neighbor. In certain situations where time and circumstances allow, ministers may proclaim the gospel in public places, as does our brother Bill Welzien in Key West, Florida.

None of this is in any way meant to prohibit Christians from informally telling others about the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In agreement with Dennison and Gordon, what I believe this view does is relieve church members of the unbiblical, and therefore unnecessary, guilt that every-member evangelistic programs often foster.

If anything sums up the task of an ambassador, it is that he is the official spokesman for his king. So with preachers of the Word. As Calvin insists in his commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, "a commission has been given to the ministers of the gospel to communicate to us his grace."[2] This commission focuses on communicating God's favor:

The ministry of reconciliation. Here we have an illustrious designation of the gospel, as being an embassy for reconciling men to God. It is also a singular dignity of ministers—that they are sent to us by God with this commission so as to be messengers ... Ministers are furnished with this commission, that they may bring us intelligence of so great a benefit, nay more, may assure us of God's fatherly love towards us. Any other person, it is true, may be a witness to us of the grace of God, but Paul teaches, that this office is specially intrusted [sic] to ministers. When, therefore, a duly ordained minister proclaims in the gospel that God has been made propitious to us, he is to be listened to just as an ambassador of God, and sustaining, as they speak, a public character, and furnished with rightful authority for assuring us of this.[3]

He goes on to comment on the phrase in verse 20, "as if God did beseech you,"

This is of no small importance for giving authority to the embassy: nay more, it is absolutely necessary, for who would rest upon the testimony of men, in reference to his eternal salvation? It is a matter of too much importance, to allow of our resting contented with the promise of men, without feeling assured that they are ordained by God, and that God speaks to us by them. This is the design of those commendations, with which Christ himself signalizes his apostles: He that heareth you heareth me, &c. (Luke x. 16)[4]

Because of this divine calling, the reading as well as the preaching of Scripture is an authoritative, as well as an interpretive, act of God's appointed servants.[5] It is the message of the King explained and applied. Reading and preaching are all of a piece. Despite the good intentions of those who believe that anyone may read Scripture in public worship, doing so plays unwittingly into the hands of egalitarianism and so undermines the authority of the King, and in so doing diminishes the assurance of God's people. King Jesus has appointed his ambassadors to proclaim the good news of reconciliation to the nations in order that sinners may confidently believe the message.

The perception of our task as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ, who offers reconciliation to the nations, is essential to the church's task of evangelism. God's message of reconciliation is central to all we preachers do both inside and outside of the visible church.

Endnotes

[1] Charles G. Dennison, "Evangelism and the Church" Ordained Servant, June-July 2009; T. David Gordon, "Evangelistic Responsibility," Ordained Servant, June-July 2009).

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, vol. 2, transl. by John Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 238.

[3] Ibid., 235-36.

[4] Ibid., 239.

[5] Cf. the title of Hughes Oliphant Old's monumental history of preaching, The Reading and Preaching of Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, six vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2007). Reading and preaching Scripture are inextricably linked in the history of the ministry.

Ordained Servant, June-July 2009.

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