Cornelis Van Dam
Reviewed by: Mark R. Brown
Date posted: 11/14/2010
The Elder: Today's Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture, by Cornelis Van Dam. Published by P&R, 2009. Paperback, 320 pages, list price $17.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Mark R. Brown.
Of the making of books on the elder there is no end! From Miller, Smyth, Hyde, Dabney, and Dickson in the nineteenth century we came to McAfee, Eyres, DeKoster, Jumper, and (Michael) Brown in the twentieth century—and now Van Dam.
Van Dam is a Canadian Reformed professor. His book is part of a series entitled Explorations in Biblical Theology. His study focuses on the Old Testament origins of the elder and the development of the office in the New Testament. The stress is on the study (opening up) of many passages of Scripture. This is in contrast to the focus on church history, church government, and practical duties that characterizes many other volumes.
After exploring the exegetical details, Van Dam comes to conclusions that are in conformity with his Dutch confessional commitment. He reaffirms the distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders. Some Presbyterians might say there are two offices within the one office of elder, but to me that is an inconsistent use of the English language.
Van Dam says that the word elder can encompass more than one office in the church. His conclusion is that the ruling elder and the teaching elder are two distinct offices (p. 105). This agrees with the Dutch confessional position that three offices continue in the church: minister, elder, and deacon (Belgic Confession, article 30). He rejects the two-office view (elder and deacon) and reaffirms the classic Reformed and Presbyterian understanding that there are three church offices.
Perhaps Van Dam's study will encourage more Presbyterians to appreciate their three-office heritage. This book is recommended as a means of moving Reformed and Presbyterian churches toward confessional conformity on this issue. The book Called to Serve, edited by Michael Brown, would be a good practical follow-up to Van Dam.