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This past Sunday I stood with four other men to be ordained as elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I’ve had the honor of being ordained an elder on four occasions now, twice at Capitol Hill. Each time it’s been a sobering and joyful experience. Each time I’ve been reminded of the seriousness of shepherding the Lord’s people, sheep purchased with His own blood. For me, the most solemn part of the day is the taking of vows before the Lord, my fellow elders and the congregation.

I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 5:4-7

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.

I think also of Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Yeah, that “have to give an account” part should make anyone think carefully before making a vow and perhaps letting their mouth lead them into sin. Ordination is a time for fearing the Lord, trembling in His holy presence even as we expect His lavish grace. The making of these simple promises remind us of a far more profound reality: God cares about how His sheep are tended and will ensure they are tended well. The difference between the hireling and shepherd comes down to whether they take and mean these vows.

Here are the questions of promise we were asked and the commitments we made this past Sunday:

1. Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ as your own personal Lord and Savior? I do.

2. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, totally trustworthy, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, the supreme, final, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice? I do.

3. Do you sincerely believe the Statement of Faith and Covenant of this church contain the truth taught in the Holy Scriptures? I do.

4. Do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the statements in the Statement of Faith and Covenant you will on your own initiative make known to the pastor and other elders the change which has taken place in your views since your assumption of this vow? I do.

5. Do you subscribe to the government and discipline of Capitol Hill Baptist Church? I do.

6. Do you promise to submit to your fellow elders in the Lord? I do, with God’s help.

7. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to accept the office of elder from love of God and sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son? I have.

8. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in promoting the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise to you on that account? I do, with God’s help.

9. Will you be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as elder, whether personal or relative, private or public, and will you endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before this congregation? I will, by the grace of God.

10. Are you now willing to take personal responsibility in the life of this congregation as an elder to oversee the ministry and resources of the church, and to devote yourself to prayer, the ministry of the Word and the shepherding  of God’s flock, relying upon the grace of God, in such a way that Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and the entire Church of Jesus Christ will be blessed? I am, with the help of God.

What do you think of such responsibilities and promises? If you’re an elder or an aspiring elder, what have you vowed or are preparing to vow before the Lord?

Lord willing, over the coming days I hope to expound these particular vows as a way of burrowing further into my own heart with them. I welcome you to join me and I hope it might be an encouragement.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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