December 21, 2003 Q & A

Sunday School Teachers


My question has to do with the significance of Sunday school teachers. Chapter 9 of the Book of Church Order mentions teachers. I think that it is connected with the Westminster Confession regarding the officers of the church, that would be derived from passages like Ephesians 4:11-16.

The question is then, does the OPC recognize the gift of teaching apart from the office of Pastor-teacher? And if not, than what would be the point of Sunday school, if the Sunday school teacher is not an officer of the local congregation? The implication seems to be that that individual has no authority to teach.


The Form of Government of the OPC (FG), Chapter III ("The Nature and Exercise of Church Power") has this to say in section 1:

"The power which Christ has committed to his church is not vested in the special officers alone, but in the whole body. All believers are endued with the Spirit and called of Christ to join in the worship, edification, and witness of the church which grows as the body of Christ fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working in due measure of each part. The power of believers in their general office ...."

So, yes, the OPC does recognize that unordained members may properly engage in actions whose purpose (or some part of it) is the edification of the church. This has been referred to in our Reformed churches as "The General Office of Believer". I think it is vital to distinguish between gifts, which Christ distributes to all within the church in varying ways (e.g., Rom. 12:4-8, 1 Pet. 4:10, 11). The passages cited are addressed to church members in general, not to officers in particular. To these may be added passages which tell believers to encourage, exhort, admonish, etc., one another (e.g., Rom. 15:14, 1 Thess. 5:12-14 which distinguishes the work of officers [vv. 12f] and the work of all members [v. 14], Heb. 3:12, 13, 10:24, 25, etc.)

The Spirit gives various gifts to all within the church to be used for the common good of the church (1 Cor. 12:7; although this refers in context to special charismatic endowments, I think the principle applies to all gifts given in the continuing, post-apostolic life of the church). But the gifts given to some are of such a nature and such a degree that the church recognizes that these persons ought to be set apart for the use of their gifts in office (Acts 6:3, 4, 20:28).

It is the nature of the office of elder/overseer that all other ministries and activities in the church are subject to the oversight of the Session (FG XIII.7). So a congregation's elders may certainly all be involved in teaching in one way or another (they are to be "apt to teach", 1 Tim.3:2). But others also may be involved in teaching (whether in a Sunday School, or small group fellowships or neighborhood Bible studies), so long as their activities are under the oversight of the elders of the church (and subject to any other biblical restrictions, such as 1 Tim. 2:12).

There is not a specific command for churches to have Sunday Schools, but there is a general command to make the gospel known as widely as possible outside the church and to provide instruction to those inside. The Lord leaves it up to the local session to determine how best to carry out these mandates, and that may certainly include putting members to work teaching in various ways—always under session oversight. It is in this way, by the way, that gifts needed for teaching and preaching become known. As men are put to work in various ways, we see them develop those gifts which may eventually lead to their being ordained as elders or preachers.

In short, many may have sufficient gifts to teach in various ways, under the oversight of their elders, but some may be so gifted that they are set apart to devote their lives to the work of study and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17) and to do so with authority as officers in Christ's church (FG chapters 6-10).

I hope I have addressed your actual question. If I have missed your mark, let me know.



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