What We Believe
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The Golden Key for Life and Leaders: The Idea of Office, by Kornelis Sietsma, David H. Schuringa, ed. NL: North Star Ministry, 2019, 123 pages, $10.00.

During the early years of my ministry, while working on the report of the Committee on Women in Office, I discovered the earlier version of this volume, published by Paideia Press in 1985, simply titled The Idea of Office (TIOO), by K. Sietsma. In this original book, what is called the “Introduction” is actually a foreword by the translator, Henry Vander Goot. Then what is titled the “Foreword” is actually the author’s introduction, as it appears in the present volume. The new edition simply more correctly titles this “Introduction.” While Vander Goot does not tell us much about Sietsma, he offers an excellent apologia for the importance of office in the modern context. “Office, then, is service indeed, but always service in a specific work. … Far from being a consequence of having gifts, office is that delegated and limited authority God has apportioned to each area of life” (TIOO, 11, 13). It is unfortunate that this section is eliminated in the new edition and the translator, Vander Goot, is only acknowledged in the new edition on the copyright page.

The Foreword by David T. Koyzis in the new edition (TGK, 7–10), however, is valuable because he provides important biographical information about Sietsma. In 1942 Sietsma was arrested by the Nazis at his home in Amsterdam, where he was a pastor. Soon after he was executed in Dachau at the age of forty-six for helping the Jews. His final sermon on Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, from Luke 4:1–13, emphasized the temptation that comes with power (7). This makes his teaching on the nature and limits of office all the more poignant.

Sadly, the final chapter, “The Office of Believer and Ecclesiastical Life,” has been eliminated, no doubt to appeal to a broader audience as well as to view the idea of office in a broader sense. It is replaced by a brief epilogue by the editor, H. David Schuringa. Ecclesiology is the weakest link in the Western church today. The new Foreword focuses on the importance of office in general, whereas Sietsma moves from the general biblical concept of office, to office in various spheres of life, and concludes with three of the six chapters in the original by dealing with office in the church, both special and general.

The six chapters of the original could be divided into, chapter 1–3: “The Biblical Idea of Office in General,” and chapters 4–6: “The Biblical Idea of Office in the Church.” Sietsma tellingly begins chapter 4 by observing that in “a discussion of the office that the believer holds in the church, we shall touch upon those matters which, in our view, are most neglected” (TIOO, 56; TGK, 67).

There is still much value in this slightly abridged edition. But here is the link to the PDF version of the original.

The new edition has reformatted the text in block paragraphs. Otherwise, the first five of the six original chapters are faithfully reproduced. The editor, David Schuringa, has added several informative footnotes. In two places he adds a subheading for clarification (28, 38).

I often summarize each chapter of a book in a review article in order to save time for busy pastors, elders, and deacons, who may not be able to read the book under review. In this case I shall only offer some hors d’oeuvres to whet your appetite because the book is both brief and very important. It should be read by every church officer. What follows is from the new edition (TGK).

In the Introduction Sietsma describes the two ecclesiological poles he seeks to navigate: “In church affairs it has been the domination of the hierarchy or the triumph of the enthusiastic leader, the extremes of clericalism or Montanism,[1] which have damaged our sense of office and official relationships” (11). God’s sovereign control over all earthly authority and scriptural data inform Sietsma’s idea of office. The New Testament brings out the riches of the idea of office, focusing on office, especially in the church as service to God—stewardship of a God-given task (18–19).

Chapter 1, “Office Lost and Restored,” explores the nature of office and the damage sin has done to it since the fall. Human beings exist in official relationship to God, but now because Adam walked away from his calling, office and the idea of office have been corrupted. Hence, born in sin, we are all by nature office-breakers (30).

Chapter 2, “Christ the Office-Bearer,” begins: “The restoration of man to his rightful office has come into being in and through Christ” (31). This rich chapter shows how Christ as the Second and Last Adam has restored the office to his redeemed people (39). We are prophets, priests, and kings in him.

Chapter 3, “Office in the Various Spheres,” explores the idea that “office involves institutional authority granted by God” (41). Office is present in every sphere of human life: family, church, and state. Obedience to the authority assigned in each of these arenas is never blind, but it must be exercised with the wisdom of the community (46–47). Power and authority do not ultimately reside in the leader or the people, but in God. This alone is sufficient to counter revolutionary ideas. “No single human being has the natural right to rule over another except in his capacity as office-bearer. … The idea of office stresses the authority of the office-bearer even as it sets limits on that authority” (51–53). And then this relevant gem on the practical consequences of the idea of office:

One such consequence is that we honor, obey, respect, and support bearers of the office, even when they are not the representatives of our choice.

If we hurl defiant and dishonoring words at our office-bearers, if we think it right to advance our own views by undermining the authority of those who have been clothed with the office of government by God’s providence, then we have not understood the idea of office. We are still under the spell of personalism, of glorying and trusting in persons … (52–53)

How poignant this is coming from one who knew the extreme abuses of power in the Nazi regime, and who himself would be executed by the same.

Chapter 4, “Office in the Church,” is nicely summed up by Sietsma: “the office-bearers are called primarily to administer the Word of God and the Rule of Christ to the congregation” (72). He affirms the importance of the office of elder by insisting that “the congregation errs when members would rather see the pastor than an elder at their door” (68). The congregation must obey its officers because they minister God’s Word. The officers in turn must make sure that God’s Word is the basis of their words and deeds (73–74). The last part of this important chapter deals with the difference between person and office and reasons for declining office. The high spiritual quality of Sietsma’s exposition is exemplified when he observes that “The office encourages modesty” (80).

Chapter 5, “The Office of Every Believer,” explains in very practical terms that every believer has the office of a servant of God dutybound to be a vital part of the visible church. Each believer is an office-bearer, clothed with the dignity of their chief office-bearer, Christ, and must treat each other accordingly. Sietsma supports this by quoting a portion of Belgic Confession, Article 28, dealing with the duties of believers to and in the church (87). This is similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 26, “Of the Communion of Saints,” which asserts our duties to Christ the head of the church and our fellow believers.

Chapter 6, from the original version only, “The Office of Believer and Ecclesiastical Life,” stresses the importance of church attendance and “participation in worship” (97– 101). One cannot imagine a more relevant chapter on the topic of the idea of office. This is the end toward which the entire book is aimed, and yet oddly omitted from the new edition.

Hearing God’s Word is not only an activity of the first order but the only activity befitting humans in relationship to their God. A relationship of equality never exists between God and His people; however, that fact in no way detracts from the dignity or office of the believer. Therefore, when in the administration of the Word, this relationship between speaking God and listening man shines forth, then the office of believer is most beautifully displayed and exercised. (99)

There is in every area of life an idea and the embodiment of that idea. As Siestma asserts, the idea of office “extends to the whole of a Christian’s life” (13). This is why the original title is so valuable to church officers. When I asked a retired Christian Reformed pastor, John Piersma, how to control emotion while conducting funerals, he said, “Remember your office.” This I never forgot, and it proved an enormous help in many aspects of my pastoral ministry. Sietsma’s little book cultivated this idea in my heart.

The dowager queen Mary in the Netflix series, The Crown, has some profound advice for the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. The letter is a fictional addition in the series, but it accurately expresses the Windsor idea of royal duty. The letter addresses the new queen while she is still grieving the loss of her father the king:

You must put those sentiments to one side now. … Duty calls. … your people will need your strength and leadership. I have seen three great monarchies brought down through their failure to separate personal indulgences from duty. … And while you mourn your father you must also mourn someone else—Elizabeth Mountbatten—for she has now been replaced by another person—Elizabeth Regina. The two Elizabeths will frequently be in conflict with one another. The fact is: the crown must win, must always win.

While the series tends to view the monarchy and its sense of duty as repressive (witness the free-spirited portrayals of Elizabeth’s younger sister Margaret and Prince Phillip), and while it is true that office, and the power and authority connected with it, can be abused, it is also true that office is often denigrated and even despised in Western democracies, to its own hurt. As Vander Goot, in the original edition, observes,

Modernism must be opposed to the idea of office. Modernism realizes that no human being has the right to exercise authority over others by nature, but it concludes from this that by nature every person is essentially the same and that office is at best a functional idea. Hence modernism replaces the concept of difference with the concept of sameness, the notion of equity with the idea of equality; whoever has the ability has the right to rule. (TIOO, 10)

The humility, maturity, balance, and spirituality of Sietsma is displayed in his final sentence: “With respect to the special dignity of the three offices instituted by Christ and His apostles, they [the Reformers] nevertheless maintained the principle of the priesthood of all believers” (101).

Endnote

[1] The movement, led by the late second century self-proclaimed prophet, Montanus, who claimed direct revelation, resembling the present day Charismatic movement.

Gregory E. Reynolds is pastor emeritus of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant. Ordained Servant Online, May 2021.

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Ordained Servant: May 2021

The Importance of Elders

Also in this issue

Democracy and the Denigration of Office[1]

Ordained Servants: The Importance of the Office of Ruling Elder[1]

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapters 16–17

The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 1, “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John” (1945)

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, by Rod Dreher

A Workman Not Ashamed: Essays in Honor of Albert N. Martin, David Charles and Rob Ventura, eds.

Ode to Duty

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